Erika Andersen, a nationally known leadership coach and the founder of Proteus International, writes in her book Leading So People Will Follow (Jossey-Bass; October 2012 All rights reserved) on generosity being an essential trait of a great leader.
We tend to think of generous people as those who share material wealth: giving to charity, buying expensive gifts, or taking the in-laws out for dinner. In business, we think of generous leaders as those who provide a way for their people to share materially in the success of the company--through raises, profit sharing, or a bonus system. All of these things can be good, but they are only part of true generosity. Truly generous leaders share the wealth on many levels.
Although she is writing mostly about business leaders, these concepts of generous leadership can be applied to those leading communities. There is more impact in the public realm when both leadership and generosity are expanded beyond city hall and into the community.
All of the aspects of what Ms Anderson uses to define Great Leaders who have a defining trait of being generous could also be established in communities governed through deliberative democracy or other form of participatory democracy: 1. Assume positive intent 2. Share power and authority 3. Share what they know 4. Freely give credit, praise, and reward 5. Provide the resources necessary to succeed.
Staff can also use generosity to help establish co-leadership with council members and community citizens. Not in terms of control or power but in terms of contribution to a greater good. Staff could then see members of the community not as only clients or worse problems but as equal contributors in creating the community in which they live. Hopefully, city leadership and the community would begin to see staff as creative resources and not just a means of implementation. Generosity in civic life means giving of one's self to a greater good. Leadership means taking responsibility for others. Together, they could help to create some new paradigms for our communities.