Leadership Tips from Ed Murray

Lola Peters, LT'03, 02/20/2015

Last October, LT hosted its first "Conversations with Leaders" of the year, featuring Mayor Ed Murray, LT'95. We were thrilled with the turn-out (more than 100 people attended), and the event received rave reviews. Below is a recap of Mayor Murray's presentation and the leadership tips he offered.

Last October, LT hosted its first "Conversations with Leaders" of the year, featuring Mayor Ed Murray, LT'95. We were thrilled with the turn-out (more than 100 people attended), and the event received rave reviews. Below is a recap of Mayor Murray's presentation and the leadership tips he offered.

Seattle's mayor began his remarks by naming the politicization of candidates' private lives one of the key factors in creating the current divisive political atmosphere, and referred to Matt Bai's recent New York Times article1 pinpointing the press' handling of Gary Hart's presidential campaign as the tipping point. The result, the mayor said, is that "we have ripped our humanity out of leadership." This led to his first recommendation for aspiring leaders: Read the biographies of a broad spectrum of leaders. Each biography will provide insight into the challenges, successes and failures the subject experienced. He cited Thomas Friedman's October 21, 2014 New York Times op-ed2, contrasting the collaborative style of Pope Francis and the combative style of Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The mayor then offered the leadership guideposts he uses, learned during his Jesuit education and from being the middle of seven children: 

  • Recognize everyone as a leader. Give people the recognition they deserve and don't feel you have to have credit for everything.

  • Identify emerging leaders and give them the benefit of your experience as well as opportunities to build their own.

  • Find time to be contemplative: Read and think. Without it you have nothing fresh to bring to the table.

  • Collaborate. True collaboration, he said, means doing something with people who are NOT like you. He cited former Seattle Police Chief Bill Bratton's book, "Collaborate or Perish."3  

  • Be willing to take risks and step outside your comfort zone. This requires bringing humility into your work by admitting you may not have all the answers. He stated that this was a challenge for him and the source of the passion that often erupts as temper.

The mayor then answered questions from the audience.

The press: The mayor spoke of its importance and his frustration that it has become focused on things that are "flashy," issues that don't necessarily make a difference but grab the public's attention. He suggested that instead of focusing on stories about personalities within government, for example, a deeper level of scrutiny on the city departments' functions may be needed.

Priorities: When asked how he chooses the issues that get his personal attention, he responded, "The things that will be in my obituary I've already done, so I have some freedom now to do what needs to be done without thinking about legacy or credit."

District-based Council elections: The mayor speculated that energy and power would probably become focused into the Executive's office. Councilmembers will have less expertise on citywide issues and will have to find strategic balance between the needs of their district and those of the city.

Mentorship: He cited Cal Anderson and Martha Choe, LT'84 as his primary mentors, and characterized their guidance as always very direct and blunt. Martha directed him regarding strategy. Cal taught him how to let go of a bit of himself and manage the politics of relationship.

Restoring power to the voter: The mayor stated that money in politics is poisoning the well while civic participation is being demonized and intentionally discouraged. During his initial public service walks through neighborhoods, neighbors reported they were hearing one another's concerns for the first time. Creating that public civic space to engage people is what he believes it will take to restore the power of the voter. He also suggested that we have to create a system in which flawed human beings can run for office. The biggest challenges to potential candidates are their pasts and their financial ability to run. He recommended EJ Dionne's book: "Why Americans Hate Politics."4

Inspiration: Mayor Murray is constantly re-energized by the knowledge that the work he does actually changes people's lives and gave as an example the passage of the farmworker housing bill.

Hope: Mayor Murray spoke about State Senator Jim Hargrove, who researched and identified juvenile justice best practices and was able to create and implement a plan resulting in the closure of a juvenile detention facility due to decreased need. The mayor recommended the books "Triumph of the City"5 and "If Mayors Ruled the World,"6 which show how cities are driving agendas and leading change. 


1Bai, Matt."How Gary Hart’s Downfall Forever Changed American Politics." New York Times, September 18, 2014, Magazine.
2 Friedman, Thomas. "Putin and the Pope." New York Times, October 21, 2014, Op-ed.
3Bratton, William, and Zachary Tumin."Collaborate or Perish: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World." Random House, 2012
4Dionne, E.J."Why Americans Hate Politics." Simon & Schuster, 1992
5Glaeser, Edward."Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier." MacMillan Publishing, 2011.
6Barber, Benjamin R."If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities." Yale University Press, 2013.