The following is a speech given by Dave Durenberger for the Minnesota City/County Management Association’s Annual Meeting on May 3, 2012.
I’m here tonight because a 17-year-old Delano High School Senior was sent to work in the city manager’s office for the three credits he needed to graduate. After a couple months on the job the city manager called him in, put an application for admission to St. John’s University in front of this full-blooded Lutheran boy who hated the idea of going to an all-male college, and told him to sign on the dotted line.
The kid became a Johnnie, grew up to be just like his former boss by getting a job just like his, next door to him in Watertown, and recruits another Johnnie to speak to you on what the three of us value about servant leadership. The high school senior turned city manager, the Johnny quarterback turned servant leader of this association, and the former U.S. Senator turned traitor by taking a teaching job at St. Thomas.
In the next 30 minutes I will share with you the lesson I’ve learned from the political and policy activism of the sixties, to the polarization of the 21st century politics, as it has changed the meaning of community and your role in the future of local government. I will remind you that Robert Greenleaf’s theory of servant leadership is flourishing in your profession as much as it is in the fathers and mothers who provide leadership to 76 clubs and organizations in one 5,000 person MN community called Delano. Where, by the way, my mother’s father and his family came in 1899 fresh off a boat from Pilchowice, Poland. To farm, as they had in Pilchowice.
I will begin where my wife and I now live. In the city of St. Paul. Shortly before Chris Coleman was scheduled to deliver his State of the City Address last month, MPR sent e-mail questions to some residents asking our opinions on the state of the city. My government redesign reaction was St. Paul is a great bunch of ethnic neighborhoods, without any liquor patrol limits, in a city called Minneapolis. Or MSP.
My taxpayer reaction was that my 85 year old neighbor, recently widowed by the death of her husband – a former general counsel at 3M, has been fighting the city for two years because her sewer system backed up, flooded a good part of her home, and her request for help has been batted back and forth from the city to the state to the legislature and she’s about to give up.
So what’s my opinion of the city of St. Paul? It has no soul. My neighbor is simply an address to those who manage the affairs of the city; and she’s just one 85-year old vote to her councilman. So let’s talk for a couple minutes about soul. It’s also called heart, but soul gives it more than an anatomical dimension. Like “He’s had a change of heart.” As opposed to “she changed her mind.” It inspires confidence in a potential relationship, not in current circumstances. (Fr. Forliti – St. Olaf beggar – once you showed emotion, I knew I’d gotcha.)
For experts in the art of leadership, the ability to bare your soul is an acquired trait on the way to the emotional security that comes from knowing yourself. Said another way, it is having enough empathy for others that you find yourself building genuine and potentially long term relationships with some of them. A few of whom are unafraid to tell you the things you don’t want to hear. And on a regular basis. In small groups, of men or women, willing to bare their souls in order to change hearts. Three years after their 1st encounter, John Forliti officiated at the former beggar’s wedding.
Now let’s talk about what’s going on in this country.
The same problem. Bigger dimensions and greater consequences. Our currency proclaims that in God we Trust. Lately he’s about the only one. And we the people are alternately confused, disappointed, angry, and disillusioned. Whom to believe? Until recently we elected representatives whose service records in our communities made them worthy of our trust. Recently we have been acting like a European parliamentary system where the job of the ins is to govern, while the outs do everything they can to undermine their ability to do so.
The more complex the policy reform issue, the fewer legislators willingly to make time to understand the problem. And the more the majority of them want simple, one-page solutions that fit some single issue ideology.
Robert Greenleaf in 1970 spoke eloquently to the importance of institutions and of community in his testimonial to servant leadership. I will come back to community later, but first listen to Greenleaf (in 1970):
“The signs of the times suggest that, to future historians, the next thirty years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and the deprived and the alienated of the world effectively asserted their claims to stature. To stature. And that they will not be led by a privileged elite, but by exceptional people from their own kind. . . I do not have the prescience to know what will come of all this. I do believe that some of today’s privileged …might well wait and listen until the less favored find their own enlightenment, then define their needs in their own way and then state clearly how they want to be served.”
Greenleaf spoke at a time in our history that is not like any other. A time when we voted for leaders who spoke to our aspirations – to what we could be as individuals and as a nation. Gen. Eisenhower was one of these. He was succeeded by a young U.S. Senator who launched his presidency with the suggestion that we Americans “ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.”
He launched opportunities for fulfillment of that promise, engaged his brother in an effort to overcome centuries of racial prejudice in our southern states, and started us on a national effort to reach the moon.
He also deemed it essential to our security to make wars on a Cuban dictator and a Vietnamese revolutionary, and stood off the Russians who built an historically significant wall in Berlin between their vision of the future and ours. Before losing his life to an assassin.
His vice-president succeeded to his mantle, won a landslide election, and proceeded to launch the Congress on a national effort to do what Greenleaf suggested might be the task of the servant leaders among the needy and the privileged. Others would say he took down the barriers to leadership for persons like Martin Luther King.
The Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, environmental regulation, Medicare and Medicaid. Changes in tax policy that were designed to encourage greater employment and expansion of employee health, welfare and retirement benefits. A host of great society programs promised that the impact of inflation on the income tax would be returned to the states and cities and counties and school districts to meet the needs which Greenleaf presumed the disadvantaged might best articulate.
The sexual revolution, Roe v. Wade, the Vatican Council, rock music and television all served to “liberate” people as individuals to claim their rights to serve and to be served. Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon spoke to similar aspirations, though with different roles for government.
Minnesota was a Republican state from its founding in 1858 to the year 1973 when for the first time, DFLers held the Governor’s office and both the House and Senate. In my lifetime, Minnesota elected five moderate Republican governors between Harold Stassen in 1938 and Harold LeVander in 1966. Republicans exhibited the traits of Yankee frugality and Scandinavian social conscience. The Yankee frugality derived from New England immigrants who planted the seeds of an outsized economy in what became giants like Cargill, Pillsbury, General Mills, Honeywell, 3M and the Daytons and the airline and the banks and investment firms that financed our growth.
All of whom, over several generations, stirred a social conscience that invested in the civic infrastructure of the state as well as the arts and culture, parks and recreation, and social service agencies. They encouraged their employees to give time to learning civic service and building community. Through organizations of young men, and eventually women, like the Jaycees. Where, by the way, Don Salverda and I competed as Presidents in Roseville and South St. Paul. (Queen Pageants//Warren Burger). Cal Griffith and Wheelock Whitney brought the Washington Senators to the region and three local business leaders created the MN Vikings.
The members of the MN Legislature were either conservatives or liberals and they regularly found common ground in progressive economic and social policy. The Baby Boom meant population growth. Mpls-St. Paul were destined to be 27th and 43rd among America’s great cities until the business/civic/political culture that was MN decided the future meant bigger was better.
They chose to use public policy to help shape a region which is now the 16th largest in America.
We got out ahead of the Great Society with a Metropolitan Council, fiscal disparities law and sewage, housing and parks agencies.
Cities were run like a business by professionals like City Manager Ray Olson of Bloomington who saw his job as getting out ahead of the population expansion into Dakota County by annexing Burnsville and its Black Dog Power Plant. Townships like Eagan hung on to the end, just like Lake Elmo today. Dakota County commissioners proudly remained debt free, just like Don Nyrop’s NWA, until competitive forces and easy credit financing – forces beyond their control, caught up with them.
In 1973 Minnesotans elected their first Democratic Legislature in our 115 year history and, with Gov. Wendell Anderson, your guest in 2007; the metro miracles became the MN miracle. We were off to empowering our state, as we had our national legislators, to become the financing forces beyond the control of local cities, counties, and school districts.
Our home grown businesses slowly took on a national and an international cast as the U.S. became the greatest consumer economy in the world and US producers helped create what are now competitive consumer economies in much of the rest of the world. Their boards were drawn increasingly from the national banks that financed them and their executive leadership from the best of what business leadership elsewhere had to offer. And they hired surrogates to do their civic duty.
In 1978 I was elected to the U.S. Senate to replace Hubert and Muriel Humphrey. I took office two days after my election and found myself 80th in seniority in the greatest deliberative body in the world and had a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. All of this before I found the Senate chamber to say nothing of the chamber pot aka men’s room.
Within two days I received a hand-written letter from Sen. Russell Long (D-LA) . . .
I next met Sen. Scoop Jackson (D-WA) who described for me that the cream of the Scandinavians kept going after seeing MN and ended up in WA so he’d help me learn how to deal with them. He also . . .
My chief of staff asked me to provide the staff we were hiring with my expectations of them. I replied simply that they treat absolutely everyone who asks this office for something be treated as though they were a member of the employee’s immediate family. As a result, I watched servant leaders born in my offices in DC and MN.
There was Pat from Duluth whose father had been fired by a new city administration so Pat took half his $18,000 a year paycheck and sent it home. Today he is a federal district court judge. John from Philadelphia was a lawyer in Mpls who volunteered to work on my campaign and in my DC office. He went on to become Federal Railway Administrator and Arne Carlson’s chief of staff when he needed a good one and died of an inoperable brain tumor. Jimmie from SD worked as my environmental policy guy so well he was called Senator and went on to lead the Pew Commission on the Future of the Seas. Tim from SSP came to work for as a driver for me in 1982 and 20 years later I was chairing his Citizens Commission on health care costs. Last week we buried Jenny who died of cancer at 52 at the peak of a career at Cargill and House of Hope Church was filled with those her loved her servant heart.
Why do I bother to tell you this? Because it must be as obvious to you as it is to me that this is the one nation that most people in the world expect to provide leadership in a confusing world. However, its institutions and institutional leaders of all kinds at the state, national and international level have been failing us for some time. The information revolution has totally eclipsed the capacity of journalism, policy-makers, and partisan politics to distinguish the urgent from the important.
The globalization of world markets has stretched the capacity of the business enterprise in developed countries and its interlocked world financing industry to the point where wealth-making and wealth-taking trumps ethics, civic enterprise and community involvement. And the marketing of opinion as if were expertise has seriously weakened the public’s capacity to know how to encourage co-operation and collaboration among national and international policy-makers. It is ready – fire – aim time in state and national politics.
I am complimented often for my bi-partisanship by people who say: “How I wish you represented us today.” Why, I say? “Because even when I didn’t agree with you, I always knew where you stood. I could trust you to make what you considered the right decision.” You know where you can find that today? Not in Congress. In some celebrities and in most communities that you serve.
On December 10 last year I taught four hours in our Physician Leadership College at UST. That morning the WSJ had a section on Denver QB Tim Tebow. I took it to class and asked 23 middle aged docs how a Broncos team no better than the Vikings could have a 6-1 record. They agreed it was Tebow.
Not his QB skills. His leadership skills. He was there to serve his team and his community. He brought with him a principled belief system which gave his leadership believability (even w/o John 3:16). He also walked his talk and that inspired men with superior athletic skills and football experience to trust him.
That, my friends, is the definition of servant leadership in contemporary terms. You might also think Bubba Watson. If you knew her, you would certainly think Oprah Winfrey. My point is no one in politics leads from the heart of a servant. Some can’t or they lose their jobs. Like my former colleagues Orrin Hatch in UT and Dick Lugar in IN.
When will this change? When we understand that leadership in the public realm is much more than “reaching across the aisle.” It’s a perception that you are sensitive to the issues that ordinary people have to deal with every day. Where they live, work, play and worship. For themselves and their families. Hatch and Lugar may be doomed because seniority and bringing home the earmarked bacon doesn’t work anymore. They’re out of touch.
Take Obamacare for example. Is it the health policy this country has needed forever? Of course it is. Is Obama the only President to have tried and been successful? You bet. Is it the product of 20 years of bi-partisan legislative efforts? It is. I took 26 mid-life, mid-career health care MBA students to DC during the Supreme Court hearings end of March . . . .
But millions Americans are caught somewhere between the new world order of 9-11 and the consequent drain on their resources to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the collapse of the old American economy in 2007-08. With no one explaining what’s going on, what’s at stake. Where they fit in.
Make no mistake about it. The post-WW II economy of nothing down, someone else pays housing, health care and education, employment benefits as retirement security, and your home as retirement savings is over. What will replace it? Leaders should at least understand the nature of the problem that even bi-partisan entitlement commissions can’t solve. Only lowering costs and improving quality can.
As we marvel at the impact of social media on the news cycle, on the way people make decisions about what’s good for them and what’s not, on the awakening of the Arab world, on the future of the big box store with its blue shirt servants, on the future doctor – patient relationship, there is no doubt that power in societies across the developed and developing world is shifting to individuals. Which calls out a different kind of leadership than governments from Greece to Washington DC to St. Paul are accustomed to providing. Putin’s not getting it in Russia. Yet. Nor Bashir el Assad in Syria. Command and control is being succeeded by connect and collaborate.
Robert Greenleaf talks about coercive power. “The trouble with it is that it only strengthens resistance. And, if successful, its controlling effect lasts only as long as the force is strong. It is not organic. Only persuasion and the consequent voluntary acceptance are organic.” Of the servant as leader, or as trustee of institutions, Greenleaf says, “By definition he is fully human. The servant leader is functionally superior because he is closer to the ground. – he hears things, sees things, knows things, and his intuitive insight is exceptional.”
To use one of my health analogies, he says “The healthy society, like the healthy body, is not the one that has taken the most medicine. It is the one in which the internal health building forces are in the best shape.”
Everyone who reads Greenleaf knows he believes the central ethic of leadership is foresight – a better than average guess about what will happen when in the future. The challenge to the foresight of state and national political leaders today is this. Half the people want you to fail. And have the resources to make it happen. Including control of half-baked information. Playing on a fetish for translating public opinion into positions on complex policy issues. Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan used the Wall Street Journal from a perch in New York City to call Barack Obama “A bush league president.” I don’t think she meant George Bush.
Cong John Kline was against reducing interest rates on student loans on Monday last week, and for it on Wednesday saying, “The President and his Democratic allies have failed to put forward a responsible plan…so the House Republicans will roll back wasteful spending to help student borrowers without piling debt on the backs of our children.” That could be health improvement funding for your community which just happens to be in the Obamacare law one party is dedicated to kill. Is it any wonder you never see a photo of Governor Mark Dayton where he doesn’t look really worried?
Amy Klobuchar gets it. She’s been positioning herself against those challenges by reaching across the aisle for six years to legislate national solutions to small, well-defined problems that everyone in town can agree on. Like babies being sucked into swimming pool drains. Or a new invasive fish species leaping up the Mississippi River. She votes for Obamacare, but then campaigns to gut it of the tax on MN made medical devices which is but a small part of funding the good things for the people she also represents in the law.
Where is ethical leadership intact? Where citizens can be responsible for it rather than to it. At the local level. . . .
In Sept of 1995 I invited Washington’s top pundit David Broder of the Post to St. Thomas to speak on the aftermath of the Clinton Health reform effort and where we might find leaders to get change back on track.
17 years ago now he replied, “Look in the neighborhoods. In every community. Ask the folks who live there who they’d go to for answers. They know who you can trust to be not just in it for herself.
One of the honors bestowed on my Senate service came from the National Association of Towns and Townships which annually awarded the Durenberger Leadership Award to a deserving township officer somewhere among the dwindling number of townships in America. Think I’m not still proud of that – after 17 years? You bet I am.
City hall can be a scary experience. It’s not all ribbon cuttings and photo ops. Sometimes people get elected to the city council because some experience has made them angry enough to claim a seat on the council to change the relationship between the government and the people it serves. So winning the seat, and then winning the argument, becomes their reason for governing. That only works at the state or national policy making level. It’s rarely worked locally. One of the reasons is the city has a tradition of professional management. In the 60s those managers were the power that converted townships to cities and merged and annexed whatever they could to create an economic foundation. And a power base.
Today the manager’s first job is that of story keeper who puts today in the context of all that’s gone before. He or she is the person whose soul believes you can be most successful when you don’t care who gets credit for your ideas. When you lead from behind – with the facts and the rationale and a consistency, rather from out front with the forms to be filled out, the rules to be followed, and the inspection that follows that.
I learned that from Senate Finance Committee Democratic chairs, like Russell Long, Lloyd Bentsen, and Pat Moynihan who were eager for me to lead on policy issues where I could find and drive consensus. Even though I was a Republican. Because they loved the responsibility they were given by the people who elected them in LA, TX and NY, and they didn’t care who got the credit.
MN Republican House Health chair Jim Abeler told my students he spent six terms in the minority building bridges to the majority to get things done for people in Anoka who elected him. Bridges he hoped when he was in the majority the DFL would also use.
I learned from city managers that giving away much of what you know is the best way to build citizen confidence. On that self-confidence, you build community leaders to help take on the challenge of defining problems, creating opportunities, marshaling resources, and timing solutions. Risks to the servant leader are minimized by sharing power. Because sharing the power of information brings out the best in citizens, and cuts them in on accountability for the results.
In every community there are natural leaders. Community can be defined as neighborhoods in a large city, or city or county or school district or church or a non-profit company. Sister Mary Jean Ryan at SMS Health System in St. Louis…..
Among the important forces at work today because of social media is a purposeful re-alignment of many professionals around measuring and reporting outcomes, consistently. I know it’s happening everywhere in health care, among a great number of teachers, in the military, in government, and even among Catholic priests. People who choose the professions that require a servant’s heart are committing to being transparent with each other and with the people they serve.
Regardless of what the Supreme Court or the Republicans do with Obamacare, health reform is here to stay. (Healthy Hennepin). Eighty-one-year-old Watertown Mayor K.J. McDonald is an example. Last December he lost the use of his left arm, discovered a malignant cancerous tumor in his brain. An HCMC neurosurgeon and his team removed the tumor and in just two days he was back in Watertown ready to pick up the gavel with either arm. That’s what we have come to respect about health care. And to fear its costs. But, there’s another side to this. How do we get health care costs contained? Stay healthy. Sometime this spring Mayor McDonald, who wants to get rid of Obamacare because he thinks it’s too much gov’t, wants to have a symposium in his city and to ask three doctors to come and talk with the community about making healthy life style choices. Pretty good for a dairy farmer I think.
That is going on all over MN. I am a believer in miracles. A friend who lives just north of San Francisco where we have our second home tells me he drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to the city and up a toll booth behind a car with a bumper sticker that said “Expect miracles.” He wondered to himself if the owner of the car would even recognize one if it happened to him. As he handed his $6 to the toll-taker she smiled and said, “Go on through, the driver in front of you paid your fare.” Miracles do happen. For those with eyes to see. And a heart that brings tears to eyes like mine whenever I tell this story. Change begins inside the servant, which each of you have chosen to be. Philosopher Albert Camus said, “Change begins with each persons’ suffering and joys and builds from there.”
I have a miracle you can work on for the next couple of years. Figure out how city, county, and school district managers can take down the barriers between local units of government that make it difficult for citizens to express themselves and to help make change a part of your community. Take advantage of the relationships among people that already exist to build soul in your city. Public safety, transportation, recreation, education if you define these as part of a healthy people and a healthy community, you will see miracles. Maybe Phil Kern, who worked one with Luke Fischer, can get you started.