Today’s guest blogger is Matt Hottle.
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I was having lunch recently with someone I’ve admired professionally for some time and he candidly shared his unvarnished thoughts about what Birmingham needed to move forward and succeed in exponential terms.
I gained quite a bit from that conversation, but one unanswered question has lingered past that afternoon. When the current business and civic leaders are gone, who’s going to replace them?
We are about to see a generational turnover of leadership throughout Birmingham over the next 5-10 years. Sprinkle in some unanticipated turnover and we could be looking at a huge shift in leadership.
We recently saw a prime example of this when the head of the Birmingham Business Alliance announced he was stepping down. This represents a significant change at one of the most prominent business organizations in the region.
I’m not sure everyone recognizes how important these roles can be for the city. Many of these organizations have large staff and control multi-million-dollar budgets dedicated to everything from economic development to community outreach. How those resources are deployed has a tremendous impact on the people they are meant to serve.
We’re in an important period in Birmingham’s history and the leadership required to move the city forward is changing. While national attention being paid to the city both as a travel destination and emerging startup community continues to increase, we still have poor economic mobility and equality of opportunity remains aspirational for many.
For those of us who live, work or own businesses in Birmingham, we all feel the inflection point facing us right now. The energy, positivity and inspiration to be more, is palpable. We also know we have work to do.
I wouldn’t attempt to be prescient regarding specific individuals who might fill future leadership roles. I can attempt to suggest the attributes likely required of successful leaders.
What has worked in the past, may not work in the future. Understanding a changing set of circumstances within a dynamic city like Birmingham and showing an ability to adapt is crucial.
Birmingham, at its best, has been a two-steps-forward-one-step-back city. We have success in some measure and then, often nationally, demonstrate our ability to create face-palming headlines. This is frustrating but we will need leaders who understand this cadence and accept the net incremental gain in each of these shuffles.
We don’t need any more studies or research projects published on the strengths and weaknesses of Birmingham. Most of our opportunities are tacitly obvious. We need people who will roll up their sleeves and get things done. In the startup community, it’s often referred to as a “heads-down” approach. The output of our efforts should be tangible, measurable and meaningful. Philosophers need not apply.
How our leaders respond when they or their organizations are failing, speaks loudly about the merit of them occupying those positions. Cobbling together a PR strategy to promote disparate statistics that attempt to hide institutional under-performance simply cannot be tolerated. Take your lumps, do it publicly and show some willingness to learn from those mistakes.
Silos around organizations are tall and prolific in Birmingham. Many of our organizations duplicate efforts, staff, resources, fundraising and sponsorship. Instead of building individual hierarchies with self-preservation as the main organizational motivation, our future leaders need to understand how much more will be accomplished when we work together, share resources and take a selfless approach to reaching common goals.
Turnover as an Opportunity
As this turnover occurs, we can endure a net loss of experience or embrace this as an opportunity to find and encourage the next group of leaders in Birmingham to accept the mantle of leadership and push our city forward.
I believe we have incredibly gifted and committed people ready to take on those roles. I believe it is our responsibility, as a community, to take this turnover seriously and recognize the generational implications it holds for all of us.
Matt Hottle is a partner and co-founder of Redhawk Venture Group, a trio of companies that support startups and manage venture capital funds. His latest endeavor — Redhawk Advisory — manages the Alabama Futures Fund, Alabama’s first seed-stage venture capital fund. The fund has already been recognized as Alabama’s most active VC, with a portfolio of startups that include Doctor Wellington and Joonko. His goal is to not only support Alabama startups, but to also bring startup talent to the state by building a best-in-class infrastructure for entrepreneurs
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org