Bossership vs Leadership - The Failure of Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien

It is not a year into his mandate yet, but clearly his record is clear. Larry O’Brien is probably the biggest disappointment in Ottawa history. While a majority of voters clearly believed we needed a change from Bob Chiarelli’s mediocre leadership, this is not what they expected. Indeed, the most disappointed are his own supporters. But even those of us who opposed O’Brien did not expect this. In fact, some of us realized that he could not do too much damage with just one vote on council and hoped that his hyped high tech private sector background might even provide some innovative ideas. But there were none. While we expected policies and leadership in a direction we disagreed with, this complete failure of leadership was not expected..

Rather than recap all the failures of our new mayor I will refer you to Dawg's Blawg: Bull in a china shop, where he does an excellent job of summarizing them.

In hindsight we should not have been surprised. For all they hype about his background as a high technology leader, in reality he was the boss of a gloried temporary help agency that made his money by taking a cut of the salaries of people who worked for other companies or the federal government.

We had our first clear clues that Larry O’Brien was not up for the job when he admitted to never attending a City Council meeting, and made no effort to attend any, even after announcing his candidacy, and saw no need to learn the structure of city government until after he was elected.

Ironically many voted for Larry O’Brien because he was not a politician, but his lack of political skills have been his downfall. He may, or may not, be a great private sector boss, who is used to making the decision and telling everyone else what to do, but he obviously lacks the political skills necessary to build the consensus and coalitions necessary to get things done in municipal government.

Larry O’Brien is simply not a leader. He has clearly demonstrated that. He was clearly a boss masquerading as a leader. It is easy to get people to follow you when you are the one signing the pay cheques. But when, as mayor, he started hiring people not accustomed to being “yes men” he saw his key staff resigning in droves, as he refused to listen to the people he hired to give him advice.

What Larry O’Brien has done is demonstrate clearly that mayors are not as powerful as people think. The mayor is just one member of council. We forget that sometimes because we see the accomplishments of great mayors of the past in this city and others. In fact their accomplishments did not come because they had power, not because they were the bosses. Their accomplishments came because they showed leadership. Larry O’Brien has clearly not shown any leadership as Mayor of Ottawa.

It appears that Larry O’Brien may even be recognizing his own failures as a leader and giving up on trying to be the leader and trying to be the boss instead, by attempting to take over the role of the City Manager. That is not his role. If Larry O’Brien does not want to lead this city he can sit back and fulfill his ceremonial duties and let City Council run the city without him.

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