Collaboration is a term many politicians use, but very few are up to the challenge of actually doing it. Summit County Executive Russ Pry, who died on Sunday, was always up to the challenge.
He understood that collaboration required galvanizing leadership. And he used his immense leadership skills to unite diverse stakeholders to pursue change in such diverse areas as public health, workforce, early childhood education, economic development and government efficiency. The one skill he was most known for was building trust. He knew that he didn't have the power to order the mayors of Summit County, or anyone else for that matter, around. Instead he took the time to figure out what others needed and then helped them achieve their goals.
People trusted Russ because he was only concerned with making a contribution. Others could take the credit. Russ just wanted to make sure that at the end of the day the people and businesses of Summit were better off.
And unlike so many leaders, Russ was willing to trust others. A few years ago I brought a proposal related to fostering a talent development collaboration to Russ. Talent development was important to Russ. He wanted to create a world-class talent development system in Summit County. He said he wanted it to be his legacy. The proposal I made to Russ was more than a little vague, rife with risk and full of ambiguity. His peers would have not only passed, they would have run from it. He embraced it, telling me that as long as we both were willing to adapt and adjust things would be just fine. He knew that something as complex improving the performance of the talent development system couldn't be done with a simple program or even a detailed strategic plan. It would take a long-term commitment and sustained effort across multiple sectors. He knew the approach would have to evolve over time.
Tragically, Russ' time was cut short. But all of us who were blessed to work with him owe it to him and the people of Summit County to make sure his legacy is fulfilled.