A Publication of WTVP

"What qualifications are you looking for?”

It’s a question we field regularly this time of year, when nominations open for 40 Leaders Under Forty. And it’s a question I don’t think we’ve ever answered to the interrogator’s satisfaction. Maybe leadership is the proverbial “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” situation. One thing’s obvious: the winners always have it.

To get a feel for leadership, we decided to poll people voters chose to be leaders—mayors of area communities. In general, we asked for their vision of the area’s future. The answers to those who responded are on page 42-43. You’ll certainly come away with a good feeling.

Look at the words and thoughts that resonate through their answers:
• Communication.
• People.
• Diversity.
• Investment.
• Cooperation.

Our focus, obviously, was the tri-county area, but we did stretch over to the Twin Cities. Hundreds of people commute daily from one area to the other. The impact of job opportunities and quality of life improvements stretches more and more beyond political boundaries. If your vision of I-74 is that of a road cutting through nothing but corn and pumpkin fields, you haven’t driven it lately. Take note of the new businesses and houses when you drive past Goodfield and then consider that’s the midpoint between Peoria and Bloomington.

It truly is a time of change here. At least five cities—Peoria with the Regional Museum and expanded Civic Center, East Peoria with the Technology Park and Caterpillar Heritage Center, Bloomington with the arena, Normal with the Children’s Discovery Museum, and Pekin with riverfront development—are in the process of once-in-a-generation downtown developments. Commercial and residential building thrives in central Illinois, while the reconstruction of I-74 progresses to improve our commute.

Change, of course, is inevitable. Change will come whether we want it or not, whether we plan for it or not, and whether we accept it or not. In leaders, we look for more than just a hand on the rudder. We want a firm pilot on the course through the sometimes turbulent seas that change churns up. We want someone who helps us see that course, and we want someone who inspires us to pick up an oar.

I see all that when I read our mayors’ views of the future. I find their visions encouraging. Their lots are not easy ones. On one hand, we demand much of them. On the other hand, we offer remuneration that makes a shambles of a minimum wage.

So, does all that answer your “What are you looking for?” question? I didn’t think so, nor did I intend to preclude your phone call or e-mail asking that question. I just thought we might unearth some guidance and direction on defining leadership by finding common qualities in those we’ve elected.

And I think we have. Read over what they have to say, and you’ll see one overriding quality. Each shows a dedication and determination to leave things better for their respective communities—and the area. And there’s a sense of leaving things better for those who come long after they’ve left office.

For elected leaders, volunteer leaders, all of us—“leaving it better” is an excellent roadmap to follow. IBI