Among the many things I do is work with college seniors as they get ready to graduate and hit the job market. The changes you use in many of these students over that last year in school is often significant, and in some cases remarkable. Different students grow differently and the potential starts to appear. Some gain confidence in their skills and begin to grow into the profession. Some of these students are likely to make good leaders in the field in the future. But trying to guess which ones and why it is often a challenge. However I want them all to have some concept of what leadership is all about. For many of them, they will end up in the water/wastewater/stormwater field. They are going to have to deal with tough issues like rebuilding deteriorating infrastructure, sea level rise, climate changes, stressed water supplies, energy demands and a more demanding electorate. They will recommend increasing water and wastewater fees. But will they have the skills to encourage decision-makers to move forward with the needs of the system. You see, that’s where leadership comes into play. Often it is little things that set things into motion. Our engineers go into the world with a technical skills et, that ability to learn to solve problems with solutions. We try to encourage them to be creative. An assigned reading is “The Cult of the Mouse” by Henry Caroselli, who urges creativity above profits in the workplace. Mr. Caroselli is right in that it is creativity that allows us to come up with innovative solutions, the ones that change how we live. It is also where the patents and economic opportunities exist. America rose to greatness in the 20th century in large part because of automobiles – we figured that out and it made some many things possible. Computers became common place in the latter part of the century. We use the technology for both in the water/wastewater/stormwater industry. In fact they have made us so much more efficient that costs have not climbed as fast as they might have, which is why cable tv is normally more expensive than your water bill. Which one do you need to live? My hope is that today’s students figure out energy solutions that will carry us forward as a world leader in the 21st century. Those alternative energy options, greater efficiency of current technology. Each will allow the utility industry to improve it’s efficiency further. The City of Dania Beach built the world’s first LEED Gold water plant. That took a little vision on the part of the utility director Dominic Orlando. And a cooperative team of consultants and students. When we give these projects to young people we can be surprised because they often don’t know that “that’s not the way we do it.” Well that’s exactly what Mr. Caroselli said.
So we look for leadership. Creativity, innovation and the “Can-do” mentality are part of leadership, but not all. There is that ability to set a vision, like Mr. Orlando did in Dania. There is the ability to convince decision-makers of the wisdom of an idea, as opposed to doing like we always did to make the shareholder happy as Mr. Caroselli noted. Selling innovation is often the hard part because that’s were the costs are. But there is more. Often the selling of a good idea is difficult. You can be ridicules by the status quo. Many ideas are just lost in the shuffle because they never receive a voice.
Leadership is often not understood at the time it is occurring. Ok, maybe we figured this out when Lincoln was President, but if you read accounts of his Presidency, the early years are marked with indecision and backtracking before he got it right. Most of that is forgotten in lieu of the ultimate results. Many of the issues we face today need real leadership to create a long-term solution. The “fiscal cliff” issue is a prime example, as it the long-term need for solutions for social security, Medicare and medical costs in general. The need to fix the infrastructure that made our economy strong should be among those priorities also. Remember, we don’t remember the councilman, mayor, legislator. manager, director or President who did not raise taxes or water bills. They do remember those who solved problems