Slesnick offers insight into ethical leadership in public life
Exemplar ethical behavior has played a large role in building a successful life in business and public service for Donald D. Slisnick II, former Coral Gables mayor, lawyer and retired lieutenant colonel, who continues to hold extensive philanthropic and civic roles focused on better public service and ethics.
The political world, he said, has become very combative. “When you read some of the literature that people turn out during campaigns, you start to think if these people ever thought twice before they published that stuff, because it lowers the level of the conversation into kind of a mud fight, and that’s not what we would expect from our leaders.”
Mr. Slesnick, who was mayor of Coral Gables from 2001 to 2011, said he misses serving the people and city hall “doing what I can for my city.”
He has also served on the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) executive council and founded an award-winning program for ethics in business and government in the late 1990s.
“One of the reasons that we started [the program] was that Miami was being criticized widely around the United States for being a place where people couldn’t trust doing business, because there were so many unethical activities going on, both in government and the prival world,” he said. “And so we knew that the time had come to change that image, and the way to do it was not just to whitewash it or even paint over it, but to change the ethics and the basic understructure of the community itself.”
Mr. Slesnick has been chairman of the American Bar Foundation Fellows; president of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers; on the Dade Cultural Alliance, the Dade Heritage Trust and the Florida Trust of Historic Preservation; been vice president of the Orange Bowl Committee; founding chair of the Gables Good Government Committee, and other organizations. Mr. Slesnick is a Vietnam retired 1994 lieutenant colonel, a former Army advisor to NATO forces in Germany, and was recently appointed as an Army Reserve Ambassador for Florida.
He serves on the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce as chair of the Military Affairs Council and is the director of community and partner relations for St. Thomas University’s Ethical Leadership program.
“My role is to try to bring partnerships to the institute with the community organizations,” he said. “We’ve created a community advisory council with people from those organizations.”
Community advisory board members include Read Admiral Brendan C. McPherson of the Seventh Coast Guard District; the president of the local Coral Gables Rotary Club Ana M. Fournaris; Deborah Koch, American Red Cross executive director for Greater Miami and The Keys; and the Dade Association of School Administrators, which represents all the administrators of the Miami-Dade County public school system, including Jorge Garcia, its executive director.
“The thing about ethics is that there’s so many pressures on people, and this goes across the board,” he said. As the GMCC fought in the ‘90s to portray Miami’s image as an honest and fair place to do business, current efforts such as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s in encouraging companies to move their headquarters to the area “are critical to make sure that people around the world understand that they can trust the environment, trust the politicians to act honorably and trust other businesses to interact with them in an honest fashion.”
Giovanni R. Castro is a young rising star in ethical leadership, said Mr. Slesnick. He has served as deputy chief of staff for Miami Suarez and senior aide to former Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, as well as manager for Florida state and local government affairs for Verizon, and recently Uber’s government relations leader for Florida and the Southeast. This month he was selected for Leadership Florida 12 Connect Class, where 46 Florida leaders participate in a nine-month educational program.
“You need passion and purpose for what you’re going to be involved in the community,” Mr. Castro said, “because even on your longest workdays, you know you need to have that passion to want to give back to your community.”
Mr. Castro chairs HYPE Miami, a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee that provides young professionals leadership training and networking opportunities with senior-level executives. He is also on the board of directors of WOW Center, which offers training and education to adults with a range of disabilities in Miami Dade.
“I truly believe that you need to create an environment for growth,” Mr. Castro said. “You need to be a collaborator, a convener, a problem solver. You want to be that go-to person fostering that positive environment.”
Honesty, integrity and fair dealings are what create the desired image to preserve in the business or political world, Mr. Slesnick added. “First is your own life, what you need to get in order to have other people trust you; secondly, it’s the image we project, what makes our area successful; and thirdly, the way you act is the way your employees will act,” he said. “If they see you cutting corners, they’ll cut corners; if they see you hiding the truth, they will hide the truth.”