Benjamin Wax leads a leadership conference for city employees Tuesday morning at the Municipal Complex. Wax has been working with the city as a leadership consultant for the past six months to help strengthen leadership among department heads. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
December 12, 2018 10:43:46 AM
Benjamin Wax has spent the last six months trying to build stronger leaders among Columbus city employees.
As a leadership consultant with the John Maxwell Team, Wax has primarily worked with department heads trying to help them identify broader, more effective leadership strategies.
On Tuesday, Wax held a leadership conference in the Municipal Complex with more than a dozen city employees to review the overarching goals of his program.
"Leadership itself is a learned trait," Wax told them. "Everything rises and falls with leadership. Leadership is the skill of influence. Before we can begin to influence others, we have to influence ourselves."
The city paid Wax, who also is a professor of kinesiology at Mississippi State University, $3,100 for his services over the last six months. During that time, he met with department heads every other month and has been "on-call" for any city employees' questions.
In the department head meetings, Wax said, he challenged them to recognize their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve. In one meeting, he asked department heads to identify influential leaders they have had in their lives. He then helped list the traits that made those leaders impactful and how they can be applied to each of the department heads.
Though the process is in the early stages, Wax said he can tell the process is working.
"The leadership change takes time," he said. "The great thing is, with (Mayor Robert Smith's) leadership and the commitment of the various department heads I've met, we are taking those steps forward to serve Columbus with the best leadership possible."
Five stages of leadership
On Tuesday, Wax explained the five levels of leadership, which has been the focus for department heads. Each level, he added, builds off another.
The first level is position leadership, a leader by title. After those "bosses" build a rapport with their employees, they move to permission, and then production leadership.
Wax said as a person's leadership and relationship with their employees continues to strengthen, that leader increases his or her role to people development, a stage where employees are more likely to work for and with a leader both "on and off the clock."
The final level, Wax said, is the pinnacle leadership role, one held by the most influential leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy.
Bringing the program to Columbus
Wax has worked four years as a speaker and coach with the John Maxwell Team. He's spent much of that time helping oil companies in California and Louisiana. Now, most of his services are focused in Mississippi.
City Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong said Wax approached city leaders earlier this year to pitch his program. After Wax offered a free workshop with department heads to outline how the program works, Armstrong said he and the mayor thought it was worthwhile to continue.
"He's caused people to realize whether or not they want to be a leader and their management styles," Armstrong said. "The thing that stands out most is causing people to reflect on what are the strong points and weak points and examples to improve on that."
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones both attended Tuesday's session. They indicated the process helped city employees.
"He's a good speaker," Box said. "I think anytime you can get some instruction from someone as high caliber as he is, it's going to help people be more productive and get along."
Columbus has the option to renew a yearlong contract with Wax, though budgetary concerns may quash such an agreement.
Even if that is the case, Jones said he hopes the city can bring Wax back in the near future.
"We can never stop learning and we can always be better leaders," he said. "He did a great presentation but it's up to the people listening to the presentation to put in the work. Learning to be better leaders will only help Columbus."
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