At this years International Downtown Association (IDA) annual conference I had a chance to sit in on a session on recent IDA report on “High Performing Distict CEO’s”. The report is part of a deep dive research effort by IDA, DHR International (a national placement firm), and Somerville Partners, Inc. (a leadership consulting firm). I attended the session because I have seen the challenges associated with managing urban districts – and have seen how difficult it can be to find the right person to lead an organization whose job is to lead and manage change. Panelists David Smith and Martita Mestéy gave an excellent presentation on the qualities of a CEO – I noted that many people in the audience were furiously taking notes!

The report itself is a fascinating analysis of leading CEO’s throughout the nation. Fifty leaders in downtown management were asked to participate in a detailed online self-assessment instrument designed to identify leadership styles. The analysis then looked at CEO’s with different staffing levels, budget sizes and CEO experience. While the entire report is worth a read (click here to download), what I found quite interesting was the comparison between CEO’s running large organizations and those running medium-sized organizations.

Does size matter? 
In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Those running large organization’s were more likely to collaborate with partners, rather than be the sole driver of major downtown initiatives. This made alot of sense to me, in part because the urban ecosystems associated with BIDs in large cities are likely more comlicated and therefore require partnerships to make progress.  These CEO’s were also more “distant” over friendly or “succoriant” – perhaps reflecting the need for a professional and distant demeanor in a big city environment. They were also more generally focsed on the “big picture” and more likely to delegate work than CEO’s from smaller mid-sized organizations.

CEO from mid-sized organizations, on the other hand, were often more “free-wheeling”, prefering to wing it over establishing order. My guess is that bigger budgets require more systems in place to manage funds and activities. It takes a different kind of person to keep these systems humming. Mid-sized CEO’s were also less “traditional minded” and more into the details when implementing projects, perhaps because a smaller staff means less opportunities to delegate?

In both cases however, high performing CEO’s were flexible and creative in their approaches. Downtown management after all is a challenging field, requiring partnerships with a variety of actors over whom the CEO has no control. Succeeding in this environment at any level requires an ability to main interpersonal relationships and stay focused on a goal with persistance.

The report is available for download free to IDA members and $75 for non-members.