The Need for Ongoing, Nourishing Leadership in Our Local Communities

Todd Selig

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

Harry Truman once wrote, "Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

Our collective challenge then as selectpersons, councilors, trustees, town clerk/tax collectors, municipal managers, department heads, and staff with opportunities for leadership in serving New Hampshire’s 234 towns and cities is to identify those qualities and characteristics we might want to emulate in order to most effectively help our local governments move forward in a productive way.  To that end, what follows are some observations I’ve gleaned over the last two plus decades working within in the local government profession in our state.

The very best leaders lead with their values.   They possess integrity and effectively articulate what they believe to be important and right so that citizens and staff may understand their vision and view of the world.

Leaders listen. They consider differing perspectives and weigh the merits of these in crafting policies and solutions to address local challenges. 

Leaders build trust, and trust and honor others.  They develop meaningful relationships allowing them to accomplish important initiatives and productively work through conflict when inevitable disagreement arises.

Leaders work hard and are committed.  Being in the right place at the right time is good, but success on behalf of local residents takes work!  Consistent with their values, leaders do what it takes with integrity to reach desired ends.

Leaders are data driven. They use relevant facts to help inform their recommended solutions and to evaluate whether or not a policy is actually having the desired impact over time.  They offer objective information to substantiate their views.

Leaders define success.  They establish goals and continuously work to improve external and internal policies and processes to attain them.

Leaders practice tough love.  They talk about what is needed to improve the lives of the citizens they serve and the municipal organizations in which they work.  They hold people (and themselves) accountable to clearly established goals.  They don’t blame others.  They offer a path to the future and build consensus around it.

Leaders possess mental toughness and resilience during difficult times.  They remain calm, composed, and committed to their values.  Crises and emotional issues come and go, yet thoughtful leaders take these in stride and keep a cool head.

Leaders have the courage to show weakness and admit mistakes.  “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” are five powerful, yet important words!  Once an error in course is acknowledged, a new path is chartered utilizing lessons learned.

Leaders keep their eye on the bottom line on behalf of taxpayers.  Yet even under difficult financial pressures, they make strategic investments to improve upon the effectiveness of the organization. 

Finally, I have found the very best leaders at the local level keep it simple. They know they succeed when the citizens and organizations they serve succeed.

Our New Hampshire communities require ongoing, nourishing leadership at every level of the organization to navigate complex economic and social challenges.   Individuals at the local level with the capacity for leadership -- elected or appointed, department head or line staffer -- can help communities weather challenging economic and social times for the benefit of our residents.

Originally from Laconia, Todd Selig has been the Administrator for the Town of Durham since 2001.  He lives with his wife and two daughters in Durham.