A year in review: Stories from the first year of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

One year ago, 40 mayors from around the world started something that had never been offered before: Rigorous executive education tailored to the unique challenges of leading a city. Through both in-person and virtual classroom sessions and coaching, the mayors sharpened their leadership and management skills, practiced the art of collaboration, and improved how they communicate in public and private. High-level staff from each city went through the program as well.

As this first class wraps up its year with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative (and another prepares to start next week), here’s a look back at the stories that shaped their first-of-its kind journey.

A need for first-class training

Being the mayor of a city is one of the toughest executive positions around. Yet unlike in the private sector, there’s no formal training for the job. James Anderson, head of Government Innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, explained why the time has come for professional development for mayors. Read: “Needed: First-class training for mayors.”

Rising to the challenge

Bloomberg Philanthropies and Harvard University partnered to create a top-notch professional development curriculum customized to the challenges of mayors. Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patti Harris, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, and Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf discussed how the initiative got started and why it matters. Read: “Bloomberg Philanthropies and Harvard launch first-ever executive leadership program for mayors and city leaders.”

Training ‘city CEOs’

30 U.S. mayors and 10 from Canada, the U.K., and other countries, traveled to New York for four days of classroom learning, interactive workshops, site visits, and opportunities to learn from each other. Read in The Economist: “Forty mayors go back to school.”

A break from the grind

The program gave mayors a moment to step back from the daily pressures of running a city and sharpen their leadership and management skills, wrote Bloomberg Philanthropies Board Member Tenley E. Albright. Read: “How 40 mayors are learning to solve the world’s biggest problems.”

Learning from other mayors

In and out of the classroom, mayors found inspiration in what their peers in other cities are doing. Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool City Region, wrote that mayors he met “have a can-do attitude that was contagious.” Read in the Evening Standard: “My global lesson in how mayors can change the world for cities.”

Building staff capacity

Each of the 40 mayors sent two senior City Hall staff to attend their own three-day session with Harvard professors. A mayor’s inspiring vision can’t succeed without strong staff teams, wrote Stacey Gillett of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Government Innovation team. Read: “On building a strong team.”

A network of innovators

The 80 senior staff appreciated the chance to learn best practices and network with “a high-level bunch dedicated to public service.” Read: “City leaders on the power of networking.”

Becoming change agents

Including both mayors and key staff in parallel tracks meant both can “speak the same language of innovation,” wrote chiefs of staff from Gary, Ind., and Philadelphia. Read in Governing: “Executive training’s big payoff for city leaders.”

Long-distance learning

After the in-person programming, mayors and staff continued their training through the virtual classroom known as Harvard HBX, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions.

Going beyond city hall

To solve the toughest city problems, mayors must partner with businesses, nonprofits, universities, and others. That’s why the program invited 10 cities to send cross-sector groups of 8 people to New York to work better as a team, wrote David Margalit, Executive Program Director. Read: “When city hall can’t do it all: Building stronger partnerships.”

The meaning of collaboration

Forging partnerships across the government, business, education, and other sectors is difficult. Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patti Harris offered three tips for how to make collaboration part of a city’s culture. Read: “City leaders master cross-sector collaboration.”

Making real progress

After four days of classroom learning and workshops, the cross-sector teams reported making big gains on the issues they came to work on. “We now understand each other better, and understand each other’s interests,” said one participant. Read: “Lessons city leaders are taking home after spending a week focused on cross-sector collaboration.”

First year reflections

The first class of 40 mayors spent the year applying new ideas and implementing new practices at home — and shared results with their classmates. Faculty Director Jorrit de Jong and Executive Program Director David Margalit distilled some of the group’s insights about city leadership. Read: “How mayors lead: Emerging insights from the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.”

Celebrating public sector progress and innovation in cities around the world. Run by @BloombergDotOrg’s Government Innovation program. bloombergcities.org