Executive Training's Big Payoff for City Leaders: It's hard to set aside the daily demands of government to learn about leadership, but its well worth it.

Author:Bennett, Dayna
Position:Commentary - Reprint

When we first arrived at our respective city halls, we were both advised to "step back" before diving into the day-to-day frenzy of local governing--to take a good look at the big picture and strategize. We didn't do it. Cities face bigger challenges than ever, our mayors were elected to solve those problems now, and we felt compelled to hit the ground running.

Nearly two years later, after finally stepping back for a four-day executive training program with 78 other city-hall officials from around the world, we can't help but ask ourselves, "Why did we wait so long?"

And really, why did we? Training programs like these are commonly baked into the business world. According to McKinsey & Co., American companies spend more than $14 billion annually on courses broadly described as "leadership training" to ensure that C-suite executives continuously get better at their jobs. But for any number of reasons, those of us in the public sector tend to depend on the experience we bring to--and then learn on--the job.

It's not because there aren't programs out there, although there are certainly fewer of them tailored for civic leaders than for those in the business world. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, in which we participated as it launched this summer, is unique in that it includes complementary programs --one for 40 mayors and another for 80 of their key team members. Like similar initiatives for business executives, it's designed to connect city leaders with their world's latest insights, best minds, and strongest networks.

For most of us, the biggest roadblocks to pursuing this kind of executive training are time and, let's face it, optics. As for the former, we're proof that stepping away from the office for a few days doesn't--as much as we might like to imagine it would--stop the pace of progress in our cities. The optics could be trickier, especially given that constituents rightfully expect that they've elected leaders who already know how to get the job done. But any worthwhile training program provides tools and techniques to do the job more effectively and efficiently. At the Bloomberg program, those included:

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