7 Leadership Lessons from Dave Bing

People from outside of Michigan may not recognize the name Dave Bing, so let me share some highlights of his career.

  • 7 time NBA All-Star
  • In 1996 named one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-time
  • Entrepreneur – Founder/Owner of Bing Steel
  • Current Mayor of Detroit, Michigan

So it can be said that at many levels he is a successful person.  I had the opportunity to hear Mayor Bing talk today at the Grand Rapids Economic Club, and in thirty short minutes he had a lot to say.   The first thing I heard that stuck with me was his introduction.  He has been called “The right man for one of the most thankless jobs in America.”(Time Magazine)  Some statistics that illustrate what he faces in his job:

  • He assumed ownership of a city that was $330M in debt
  • There are 50,000 empty homes in Detroit
  • Detroit has a recently installed $100M computer system that does not work
  • Illiteracy is running between 40-50% for the residents of Detroit

All that being said, Dave Bing shared some great advice that all leaders need to hear.

  1. Be prepared . . . and be prepared to be overwhelmed – He shared that he went into office thinking that he was ready for this job because of his business and sports background.  He quickly realized that the problems he faced (see list above) were beyond what he was ready for at the time. 
  2. Leaders are Reslient – see #1
  3. Lead with Questions – One of the first things he did was to spend time asking this question of the people in his city, What is the role of government?
  4. Focus on Building Trust – He found many people did not trust the city government.  He realized he could not get the change that was needed without that trust from residents, corporations, and other key allies.  It became his #1 priority.
  5. Focus on Setting Priorities – The priorities he has set for fixing Detroit are Fiscal Health, Crime, Blight, and Education.  His agenda is clear and he is focusing resources and people on fixing these things.
  6. Focus on Accountability – Set performance expectations, work with people to help them achieve these goals, and be ready to make a change if the performance goals are not met.  An example, he has replaced his Police Chief twice because crime is a focus of his agenda and the performance goals were not being met.
  7. Leadership is about making tough decisions – He has to ask/urge people to move from their homes in areas of the city that are largely made up of abandoned homes and into areas where there is a concentration of people so the city can focus their services and resources.  You think your job is hard?

I agree with Time Magazine.  I would add that he is a man/leader worth following.  If you don’t know Dave Bing you should get to know him.  Read more