Mayor James Diossa was just 27 years old when he was elected mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island—a little city with big problems. At just one square-mile, the city was known for its financial issues (it had declared bankruptcy in 2011), low education standards, high immigrant populations, and the corrupt behavior and eventual arrest of the previous mayor. The city’s first Latino mayor, Diossa swore to do more than just repair the schools, streets, and criminal justice system when he was elected in 2012—he vowed to be open, accessible, and involved in his community in order to erase the stigma left behind by the previous administration.
During a guest lecture appearance at Johnson & Wales University’s Providence campus recently, Diossa shared some of his advice for success with students. Whether you’re interested in a career in politics or public administration or are just looking for some leadership tips, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Stick to your core values.
When Diossa became mayor, he focused his administration around five pillars: a clean city, a safe city, community events, a solid education system, and a financially stable city. Now, six years into his mayorship, he has seen improvement on all fronts, and he often credits his success to keeping those pillars front-of-mind. As a leader, it is crucial to remain consistent and reliable in order to gain the trust of the people you manage.
2. It’s OK to know what you don’t know.
Never be afraid to ask for help if you need it, Diossa said. According to the mayor, he’s perfectly fine reaching out to his colleagues—either in state or local politics—to discuss details or work through ideas. To be successful, a leader must know when is the right time to ask for opinions from people who have more experience.
3. Be accessible, visible, and interactive.
As a leader, it is important to make yourself available to whoever it is that you are leading, no matter what career path you choose. When Diossa became mayor, he had almost no leadership experience and he had to learn how to interact with his staff and the community of Central Falls. By opening himself up and really engaging the community, he found success.
4. Develop thick skin.
In any management role—especially public office—there will mostly likely be some pushback from people who disagree with you. The mayor said having a thick skin and not taking offense too easily is critical to his success as mayor, and really, it pertains to any career. As a leader, you need to be able to take criticism and create solutions based on the feedback you receive.
5. Find your moment of inspiration.
The best thing a leader can do is inspire someone else to lead. For Diossa, his moment of inspiration came from Barack Obama, a then-senator who was pursuing a presidential run. Through listening to Obama speak, Diossa discovered his passion for community and realized how he might be able to make a difference. It eventually lead him to a career in politics. When you find yourself in a leadership position, don’t overlook the impact you might have on the people who look up to you.
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