Big-Time Leadership Lessons from a Big-Time Mayor

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It takes a lot of skill, resiliency and insight to lead a major city – especially one as vibrant as Denver. 

Mayor Michael Hancock, who’s been the CEO of the Mile High City for the past eight years, clearly has what it takes. During a recent interview for my podcast, he says he wakes up every day feeling humble, appreciative and privileged to fill the role. That’s a good starting point for any leader.

It’s interesting to hear Mayor Hancock talk about leadership, because you realize how much key traits and principles cut across all fields. The nature of what you’re leading – a sports team, a community, a business, or any other kind of group – doesn’t matter all that much. What counts more are factors like what you bring to the job every day, how you view your people, and what systems you put in place to get things done.

When everything comes together, you’re leading something extraordinary – something others are drawn to and want to be part of. 

Here are a few prime takeaways from my conversation with Mayor Hancock, who was kind enough to be a guest on my Start with a Win podcast in March:

• Teams need both visionaries and implementors. Mayor Hancock is able to see the big picture and craft a vision, but he relies on a team of superstar implementors to execute on his vision and get the work done.

• Nothing is impossible. Mayor Hancock likes the old analogy of “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It describes his approach to the massive city projects going on at any point in time. When you break a major initiative down to digestible parts, you can get past its sheer magnitude and determine the best place to start. 

• It always comes down to people. Mayor Hancock is quick to credit his team leaders and members for his success. He knows their strengths, helps shore up their weaknesses, and understands that how he treats them sets the tone for everything that follows. He’s extremely busy, but he takes the time to get to know his team members and what makes them tick. He’s just as invested in their success as they are in his.

Running a city or a business, it’s impossible to please everyone. And as the leader, you’re going to make decisions that are unpopular and criticized. It comes with the job. But, like Mayor Hancock, you keep moving forward and doing the right thing – always with the best interests of your people in mind. Then, the next day, you do it again.

That’s that only way to lead a great organization, a great sports team, a great business. Or a great city like Denver.

Adam Contos