Birmingham has been challenged to find "the one big thing" that will turn the city into a world-beater.
Sir Michael Lyons, the former city council chief executive who is heading a Whitehall inquiry into the future of local government, urged public and private sectors to show inspiring leadership and work together in order to develop a "robust and distinctive vision" for the future.
In a speech to the professional services lobby group Birmingham Forward, Sir Michael suggested Birmingham needed to re-invent itself to "reflect the world of today and tomorrow rather than the world of yesterday".
He cautioned against attempting to find a single flamboyant leader, adding that "heroes sometimes have feet of clay" and that a complex city depended on leadership across the business community, health trusts, the police, universities, faith groups and the voluntary sector.
Sir Michael's comments were delivered in the run-up to a council-organised City Conference, where local authority and business representatives will thrash out an action plan to put Birmingham on the road to global competitiveness.
He said: "Do we have an adequately robust and distinctive vision for the future role of this city? I have already said enough, I think, to reveal my concern that the vision of Birmingham as a city of business tourism and professional business services is not enough."
His remarks drew a strong response from city council leader Mike Whitby, who said he "strongly disagreed" with the suggestion that Birmingham lacked ambitious vision for the future.
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) added: "Birmingham is punching its weight. The recent Mercer survey measuring the quality of life in over 350 world cities included Birmingham as one of only three UK cities.
"I can assure Sir Michael that Birmingham is being bold. I agree that we need more flexibility at local level. However, the ball is in the Labour Government's court. They need to start trusting us to deliver."
Sir Michael said: "We have made great strides but it is simply not enough. We need to think deeply about what we can draw from our history and our current strengths to provide us with a distinctive economic mission for the future.
"What should Birmingham major upon? It’s industrial past, well maybe. But a big national campaign to protect the loss of historic icons can be counter productive as the HP Sauce story should certainly have taught us.
"Birmingham should spend less time trying to find its hero – it knows too well that heroes sometimes have feet of clay. It should instead take a lesson from Ralph Nader the American campaigner who argued that: 'Good Leadership is about creating more leaders not more followers'."
In a world with highly mobile investment capital all cities were under pressure to demonstrate distinctive qualities to make them attractive and strengthen their competitive position, he added.
Sir Michael drew parallels with Plymouth, which he said was building on a distinguished nautical past but looking for new commercial, residential and tourism advantages.
Other cities had caught up with Birmingham since the 1990s when Centenary Square and the ICC were built, he said. Birmingham was no longer one step ahead.
His remarks were welcomed by Birmingham Forward chief executive Richard Brennan, who said the challenge laid down by Sir Michael had to be met.
Mr Brennan added: "What is the thing that is going to make this city really stand out on the world stage?
"Leadership needs to be more than one person. It is not just the council that has to lead, it is also the electors, the business community and the membership organisations like ourselves."