Monthly Archives: August, 2014

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 6

Cookingham Connection - Kevin DWe’re in week six of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from Kevin Duggan, West Coast Regional Director for ICMA. Prior to that, he was city manager in Mountain View and Campbell, California. He earned his political science and MPA degree from San Jose State University.


Guidepost #6

Lead those whom you contact—members of the council, subordinate employees, and citizens—into the proper channel by tactful suggestion rather than by too persuasive argument. Make them feel that they have had a major part in making the decisions and in establishing the policies which you deem to be in the best interest of the individual and the government.

Cookingham’s sixth guidepost represents a key management/leadership concept that, while also applicable to the private sector, has particular importance to our work in the public sector.

My observations regarding this Cookingham Guidepost:

  • Cookingham was certainly correct that few people want to be regularly “told” the right answer to every question. While most appreciate that leaders will express preferences/direction/make decisions, they also value the ability to provide input to decisions that impact them.
  • I suggest we take Cookingham’s concept even further than might be taken in a literal interpretation of his words. We need to go beyond having others “feel that they have had a major part in making decisions” and to assure that all constituent groups do have a major part in making such decisions. Whether employees, councilmembers, community members or others impacted by an organization’s actions, we will make better and more appropriate decisions with their input.
  • While successful leaders do need to be able to make decisions and give direction, the most effective leaders don’t limit their leadership style to those attributes. Early in my career, I defined leadership narrowly emphasizing the need to demonstrate decisiveness and authority. The most effective leaders create environments where all the members of the organization can be “leaders” within the context of their roles and skills. True leaders recognize that by capitalizing on the views and opinions of others, the organization will ultimately make better decisions. These leaders don’t view themselves as exclusively having the ability to make good decisions. I hope the days are long past for most organizational leaders when they viewed themselves as the only sources of good ideas/decisions and that once they determined a direction, the role of the rest of the organization was to simply carry out the direction given.
  • Even more in the public sector than in the private, I agree with and subscribe to the notion that “the process is the product.” In other words, it is not good enough to simply make the right decision, but it is equally important how you reached the decision. While we all would like to see decisions made in an effective and efficient manner, we can never lose sight that we work within the bounds of democratic institutions and simply reaching the correct conclusion is not enough. Determining what is the “correct conclusion” may not be easy and may vary depending on a variety of legitimate perspectives. There are even times when making the technically best decision may not result in the best outcome. A technically correct decision that devalues the legitimate role of others or damages the reputation of the organization as an open and participative democratic institution can have long-term negative consequences. Being “right” is not always enough.
  • It is fundamentally important for those we work with to truly feel that their opinions and viewpoints are valued and important. I hope the days of the “all-knowing leader” are behind us. It is not an effective style of leadership, in most circumstances, for the leader to unilaterally decide what is the correct course of action and then to inform/direct the organization. In such organizations, how are the skills of future leaders developed?
  • And of course, those of us in the public sector don’t simply have the internal organization and its members as our key constituents. We have many constituencies to work with (and to respect in the decision-making process), not the least of whom are our elected bodies and the members of the public. We act at our own peril when we don’t adequately involve and respect the role of our various constituencies in decision-making processes.
  • Leaders regularly make decisions, prepare recommendations, and reach conclusions. However, the manner of decision making is critical. Are others simply “told” of the decision or are they given the opportunity to consider options and provide meaningful input? While the leader will most likely ultimately make the decision, getting input and hearing other perspectives shows respect for those you work with and helps give them a greater sense of meaningful participation. Most decisions are not clear cut. Taking the time to explain the rationale behind a decision and seeking reaction shows the leader values those they work with.
  • Often times making a decision is easier than implementing one. Usually, the support and commitment of many others is required for effective implementation. Providing the opportunity for a shared sense of ownership increases the odds that those you work with will feel a significantly increased sense of commitment to seeing the decision is effectively implemented. And in a worst-case scenario, those left to feel unappreciated or undervalued may actively (or at least passively) sabotage the implementation of the decision.
  • Even if all parties are well intended, there is no guarantee that even a well-made decision will conclude in a successful result. If a decision has shared ownership, the reaction of involved constituents to a negative outcome will likely be dramatically different than if the decision is viewed simply as the leader’s decision.

I do not intend via the comments above to suggest that leaders should not make decisions, provide strong recommendations or lead regarding important issues. But as Cookingham suggested over 50 years ago, the “how” of reaching and communicating a decision can be as important as the decision itself.


The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

You’ll Never Earn Trust Without This

I remember my friend explaining to me how she was doing at her new job.

She said her boss was highly competent, very nice, and used an “open door” policy.

“That’s good! Sounds like you and your boss will get along just fine,” I replied.

After a slight hesitation, my friend said, “Well… maybe, but there’s just something about him. He always comes up with these great ideas, but hardly follows up on them. He may remember to do one thing every once in a while, but we never take him for his word on everything.”

Her response reminded me of the old adage: a man without his word is nothing. In other words, do what you say you will. That’s the only way people can start seeing you as trustworthy.

The part that particularly stood out to me was that her boss actually did follow through every once in a while, but because he didn’t show a pattern of doing what he said he would, his trust was lost.

Consistency is the key.

It’s not a matter of only following through on the big things—that’s when a lot of people pull it together and get things done.

You have to make sure you’re faithful in the small things. Follow up on the call you said you would make, take the next steps assigned to you in the meeting, respond to that email, etc. Basically, if the ball is in your court, you can’t just let it sit there—shoot it!

“It’s so simple really: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you start something, finish it.” – Epictetus

And if you’re too busy to hold up your end of the bargain, don’t agree to do it. (Great leaders say, “No,” remember?) Besides, trust isn’t built upon good intentions—it’s built on dependable action.

The ball will certainly drop a few times. We’re all human. But don’t allow those errors to happen too frequently, or they’ll start to define your character.

So it doesn’t matter how much of a “people person” you are or how well you do your job. Those factors certainly have their place, but who cares about any of that if no one can rely on what you say. Consistency is what enables people to build a firm, long-lasting trust in you.

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

Leadership Versus Management

It’s a discussion that people have been having for years and years: leadership versus management. Is there a difference? What’s the difference? Which one is better? Which one are you? Can you be both? What does it take to be a leader versus what does it take to be a manager?

Perhaps Harvard professor and accomplished author John Kotter has said it best by suggesting that leadership is focused on dealing with change and management is focused on dealing with complexity. If you supervise people and if you lead an organization, department, or team, then you certainly have to deal with both change and complexity. And that means that in order to be at your best, you almost certainly need to be both a leader and a manager.

If you want to be a good leader, there are some things you have to manage. If you want to be a good manager, you must also be a good leader. No one in an organization really has the luxury of saying, “I am a leader, but not a manager” nor “I am a manager, but not a leader.” You may be better at one or the other, but your effectiveness will take a quantum leap forward when you embrace the reality: I must be both. If you are married with children, you cannot seriously say, “I’m a spouse, but not a parent” or “I’m a parent, but not a spouse.” Anyone can see this is a recipe for disaster.

In order to be at your best, there are two things to keep in mind about these two roles:

  1. Keep leadership and management balanced.
    It’s been said that most organizations are over-managed and under-led. This is almost certainly the case, and it’s not hard to understand why. We are almost overwhelmed with complexity in our world today, and it’s tempting to become so obsessed with trying to manage those complexities that we ignore our equally important responsibility to lead. However, change neither stands still, nor will it go away. Ignore the need to lead, and soon there won’t be anything to lead.

Leaders and Managers

  1. Keep leadership and management in the right order.
    Leadership must precede management. If you simply try to manage the complexities without first setting the direction, it will kill morale. Leaders challenge the status quo. They inspire us by helping us to see a picture of a preferred future. However, change creates its own complexities, and that’s where management comes. In some cases, leaders who refuse to give management its proper place also kill morale because they never acknowledge the need to manage anything—including the rate of change.

People who are equally gifted in both leadership and management are rare. However, effective leaders quickly learn that the way forward is not either/or… it’s definitely both/and.

Mike Mowery


Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

Not Everyone is (or Can Be) an A-Level Player

“The truth is, these are not very bright guys.” – Deep Throat, from All The President’s Men

Let’s think about talent.

Let’s fire all the poor teachers.
Let’s hire only the “A” players.
Let’s practice differentiation with a vengeance.
Let’s get rid of all the less-than-sterling workers.

That seems to be the philosophy of many…

Consider these two excerpts from The Law-School Scam by Paul Campos. The article is about the problem of for-profit law schools and the debt incurred by the students who will most likely never be A-level lawyers. Notice especially the word “underqualified.”

This world is one in which schools accredited by the American Bar Association admit large numbers of severely underqualified students; these students in turn take out hundreds of millions of dollars in loans annually, much of which they will never be able to repay. Eventually, federal taxpayers will be stuck with the tab, even as the schools themselves continue to reap enormous profits.

The arrangement bears a notable resemblance to the subprime-mortgage-lending industry of a decade ago, with private equity playing the role of the investment banks, underqualified law students serving as the equivalent of overleveraged home buyers, and the American Bar Association standing in for the feckless ratings agencies.

News flash: many jobs are filled by folks who are not the very best qualified to do the job. And they never will be.

Finding: research indicates that some people are born to sell – or at least raised that way. (from a Sales and Marketing article in March/April, 2014).

Sales training does not work for everyone. Leadership development has not developed enough leaders. Not all students are “A” students. (That is absolutely correct… I teach at the Community College level.)

One reason: the best trainer, mentor, or teacher needs a student or learner who has been raised to learn, nurtured to learn, and has developed that inner motivation to learn. (In education, it really does not make sense to punish good teachers who work with students so unready to learn).

I love to read about talent acquisition and talent development. But, open your eyes and pay even the slightest amount of attention. You’ll realize that not every one is an A-level player. That’s why making the perfect hire is such a rare find.

And so, we see companies, which are not able to recruit and retain “A” players, lose out to those which can.

Question: You are a great computer code writer. You are a great design system thinker. A true A-level player. Would you rather work for Apple, or a Silicon Valley start-up, and cash in on your millions/billions; or would you like to work for government pay designing the latest government website? Who do you think has more of the A-level players in their interested talent pool? …And then we all complain that the website doesn’t work well enough or fast enough.

It seems to me that our very best A-level players need to put their best efforts into designing systems that help the less-than-A-level players be competent enough to get the job done.

Not all teachers are A-level teachers.
Not all leaders are A-level leaders.
Not all football players are Super Bowl-winning, A-level players.
Not all coaches are A-level coaches.

I help people know the best ideas from business books. Of course, I wish that everyone read every good business book. (By the way, not all business books are A-level books, written by A-level authors, with A-level ideas). And then I wish that all people learned all the important lessons, and put them into practice.

Guess what? They won’t. They don’t, and they won’t…

(And by the way, not all book readers are A-level book readers).

So let’s all aim to get better. Let’s all help everyone get better. Let’s help people up their game.

But don’t think there are truly enough A-level players to go around to every job that needs them. There aren’t… and there never will be.

Randy Mayeux


Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 5

Cookingham Connection - Jenifer DVWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a city manager had to say about Cookingham’s 5th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Jenifer Della Valle, an MPA graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Guidepost #5:

Be as humble as the humblest with whom you deal, and subdue by your patience those who are inclined to be arrogant. You must give as much time as is necessary to the person who is slow in understanding, and you must be patient with those who may be impatient with you.

I recently graduated from the UNC MPA program in May, having focused in local government management and graduating with two internships in local government. I’ve been working with the Town of Hillsborough, North Carolina as an ICMA Local Government Management Fellow for about three months now. Despite my limited experience in local government, I have observed that effective managers are often humble managers. I believe Cookingham’s fifth guidepost that focuses on humility and patience as a local government manager still resonates today.

Humility
Growing up, my parents emphasized humility and service to the communitya significant influencer in my decision to pursue a career in public service. Humility was reinforced throughout my studies at UNC: give the council credit when a project/idea succeeds and be willing to take full responsibility when it does not. It’s always very inspiring for me to attend ICMA conferences (yes, this is your unofficial reminder to register for the ICMA conference in Charlotte) because there are few places where I see such humility and devotion to the community in one location. To me, being humble is an important value to have generally, but there are additional benefits that come from genuine humility in leadership.

  • Enhances Employee Morale
    Humble managers are often not micro-managers. They yield this tight level of control and instead trust their employees, who are the experts in their respective areas, while still maintaining the level of accountability that ensures government operations are run well (#lifewellrun). This type of humility can enhance employee morale. Also, giving up this level of control frees up a manager’s time, which can instead be used to lead and see the bigger picture of the organization, rather than continuously getting stuck in the weeds of micro-management.
  • Openness toward Differing Ideas
    Thomas Friedman writes in his article How to Get a Job at Google that humility is one thing Google looks for when hiring employees. He states that the company looks for individuals who are “zealots about their point of view” but that have “the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.” Humility is a valued trait across sectors for a reason—it can enhance the bottom line, regardless of what the bottom line looks like.
  • Confidence in Leadership
    In this discussion on humility, I want to emphasize that an individual can be both confident and humble, and it’s not an either/or situation. Jane Perdue writes in A Humblebrag Isn’t the Answer that individuals (women especially) often struggle in achieving that right balance of confidence and humility, and she outlines six ways to work toward that balance. Having both of these traits enables othersbe it employees, citizens, or the boardto trust in your leadership, while giving them the comfort to openly express themselves even when their ideas don’t align with yours.

Patience
Part of the guidepost states, “you must give as much time as is necessary to the person who is slow in understanding.” I know that when I am struggling to understand something, I ask questions… a lot of them. Sometimes they are complex, but often they are very simple questions. I have found that the simplest of questions can get at a fundamental issue. I can think of several instances when a person is explaining something and somebody (often a person with a fresh perspective) asks, “Why is it done this way?” The other person might respond, “I don’t know, it’s just always been done like this.” Sometimes it takes a simple question to realize that a complicated process can be changed, streamlined, and improved. Simple questions can have profound effects. Great questions or ideas can come from anyone, not just those who are quick to understand. Don’t underestimate the perspective that each person brings to the table.

Every once in a while, citizens will call the Town of Hillsborough Manager Eric Peterson with a question. Sharing office space with him, I hear as he patiently attends to the citizen, devoting 100 percent of his attention to that individual and always being open to their ideas and feedback. He has fostered this culture of humility and patience throughout the organization, and it often proves extremely effective.

There will always be individuals in your jurisdiction who seem to have one goal in life: to make your life difficult. As Scott Lazenby mentions in his reflection on this guidepost, “Just as one trouble-maker disappears from the scene, another will appear.” Treat an irate citizen with patience and humility, however, and they can surprise you. If all else fails, maintain the patience that Scott exhibits and like him, you’ll probably outlast them.

Service to the Community
Lastly, it is important to treat others with humility because although managers “serve at the pleasure of the board,” they ultimately serve the entire communitynot just the most intelligent, the few who attend council meetings, or even those who are always patient with you. Effective local government managers are often leaders who are able to work with people of varying personalities and figure out how to harness their personalities as strengths. That often comes through a blend of humility and patience, and sometimes a little bit of yoga.


The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 5

Cookingham Connection - Scott LWe’re in week five of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from Scott Lazenby. He’s the city manager of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Scott was also the city manager of Sandy, Oregon for 21 years. He holds a Doctorate in Public Affairs and Policy from Portland State University.


Guidepost #5

Be as humble as the humblest with whom you deal, and subdue by your patience those who are inclined to be arrogant. You must give as much time as is necessary to the person who is slow in understanding, and you must be patient with those who may be impatient with you.

Humility
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, describes “level 5 leaders” as those who blend “extreme personal humility with intense professional will.” Collins observes that these kinds of leaders were at the helm of every company he studied that made the transition from a good organization to a great (and highly profitable) organization.

If that’s true for the for-profit private sector, I think it’s even more true for the professionals who lead and manage our local governments. A friend and colleague, Jerry Gillham (now city manager of Sutherlin, OR), faced a challenging recovery from physical wounds and psychological trauma arising from his active military duty. He shared with a group of us that in this process, he had an epiphany where he realized that “it isn’t about me,” but instead, the important thing is serving the community and supporting staff in their work. That realization, he said, has made him become a better manager.

Patience
Subdue by your patience those who are inclined to be arrogant.” In my 35 years in city management, I’ve encountered folks who have been arrogant (and obnoxious, unreasonable, demanding, hysterical, paranoid, and a long list of less-than-endearing qualities). The nice thing about patience is I’ve outlasted all of those people. The gadfly who you think will be a thorn in your side forever eventually loses interest or moves. This only works if you refuse to engage in a fight. Smother them with kindness, and they’ll eventually take the fight somewhere else. But don’t be smug about this strategy; just as one trouble-maker disappears from the scene, another will appear. It must be a law that nature abhors a conflict-free vacuum.

Serving Those Who Don’t Seem to Deserve It
The last part of Cookingham’s guidepost goes beyond taking the high road in our interactions with people. The true test of a public service ethic is whether we are willing to serveunconditionallythose who don’t really seem to deserve it.

A city manager I know shared this story. A resident received a water shutoff notice and felt she shouldn’t have to pay the $25 fee to have her water turned back on because she was a single mother and recently unemployed. Each staff person she talked to expressed sympathy and concern, offered payment plans to give her time to get her bill current, and also explained that the shutoff fee reflected a real cost incurred by the city when the public works crew member had to make a special trip to shut off and turn on the water service. In each case, the customer’s response was to scream and swear at the staff memberincluding the city manager when she had exhausted the available list of other staff to berate.

After receiving his own tongue-lashing, the city manager walked over to the utility billing department, pulled out his wallet and gave $25 of his own money to the customer service representative to credit to the woman’s account. “Don’t do that,” the staff member said in horror. “You’ll only encourage her behavior.” The city manager replied that first, we really can’t change human behavior very easily; second, it’s not our job to make our customers become better people; and finally, as unpleasant as she was, the resident did seem to find herself in a financial bind. At the same time, the city manager didn’t want to undermine that staff member’s position on requiring payment of the shutoff fee.

Obviously, the city manager would have gone broke doing this kind of thing for everyone. But he felt it was a way of modeling the attitude he wanted to see in his staff.


The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

Great Leaders Say “No”

The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. — Tony Blair

Leaders have to make hard decisions; and part of those hard decisions include turning someone or something down.

But the problem is that a lot of people in leadership positions never learn to say no because…well…. it was never taught to them.

You learn to share and be kind in school, but there’s no class that is dedicated to teaching how to say no. The only things I’ve ever formally learned to say no to are drugs and strangers.

Subsequently, you have people running around trying to do everything for everybody and be the best “leader” they can be. In actuality, those individuals need to understand their limits and know that all ideas don’t need to be acted upon immediately—if at all.

Saying no isn’t something you should feel guilty about doing. It establishes boundaries, sets priorities, and builds respect from your coworkers.

The key to doing it successfully lies in your tone and reasoning (the how and the why). Talk (or write) in a pleasant but firm manner and briefly—but directly—explain why you’re choosing to say no.

By all means, avoid being passive-aggressive. There is no great leader in history that ever hung his or her hat on the fact that they couldn’t handle confrontation head-on. Say what you mean and be straightforward about it.

Being the one to say no won’t get you the popularity vote, but that’s not what being a leader is about. It’s very tempting to want to appease everyone’s wants, but:

If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing. – Margaret Thatcher

(Seems like those former British Prime Ministers sure do know what they’re talking about…)

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

Achievers Versus Leaders

It’s been said that the skill set it takes for a person to be an achiever is not the same set of skills that it takes to be a leader.

It’s complicated by the fact that many people are pushed into a leadership role precisely because they are achievers. They catch someone’s eye. They are promoted; and if they keep achieving positive results, eventually they find themselves in leadership positions. Sometimes they are poorly prepared to be leaders, and the only thing they know to do is to try harder.

That’s what has always worked in the past. However, it takes a different set of skills to succeed as a leader. Or does it?

While I agree that it takes some different skills to be a leader than it does to be an achiever, I also think that the differences may be a little overstated. Simply put—if you want to be a leader, you’d better also be an achiever. Not all achievers may be leaders, but show me a good leader, and I’ll show you someone who is also a high achiever.

There are people who daydream about how great it would be to be a leader because they erroneously think that it’s less work and not as taxing as the job they currently have. Many times, their daydreaming contributes to their inability to achieve the kind of results that will make people want to promote them.

These people often misunderstand what it really means to be a leader. Leadership isn’t just about vision and directing people. Leaders execute. Yes, they enable others to get things done, but to simply say, “Leaders get things done through other people,” is to take a very narrow view of what it means to be a leader.

Leaders do. They delegate things, but then they do things. They craft vision, but then they do their part. They execute. Sure there are lazy leaders who don’t do anything… just like there are lazy employees. But good leaders are the busiest people I know. Even if they handle it with apparent ease, believe me, they are busy!

So if you want to be a leader, get busy. Get busy at learning how to achieve great results. Don’t waste your time debating your philosophy of leadership. Execute. Do the job you are in better than it’s ever been done before. Concentrate on the task at hand. Keep doing that, and it won’t be long before your supervisor gives you more assignments and more difficult ones. Establish yourself as a real achiever, and people will start looking at you as a leader.

But doesn’t it take different skills to be a leader than it does to be an achiever? Yes. Yes it does. But until you have learned to be an achiever, you aren’t ready to learn what it takes to be a leader.

Mike Mowery


Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources
governmentresource.com

We Haven’t Learned Until We Actually Change

“Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.
Kareen Abdul Jabbar, The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much.
John Henry Newman

Though the first quote from an article by Kareem Abdul Jabbar is very much worth reading for its painful insight into the Ferguson, Missouri turmoil, it was this line that grabbed me:

“If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how…”

Something to change; something to do. Something to do about the problems we face. Something to do to put into practice what I have read and what I am trying to learn. (Because, in reality, learning is not fully complete until we do something with any new way of thinking.)

I read business books. They are filled with insight. But, many people who “learn” ways to think from such insights do not necessarily put that thought into practice.

This is commonly called the “knowing-doing gap.” Maybe we should call it the “we talk about it, but never do anything about it” gap.

When a leader says, “This is what we should do now,” and then the people actually do it, that is when the real changes get made.

Randy Mayeux


Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 4

Cookingham Connection - Ashley GWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what a city manager had to say about Cookingham’s 4th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Ashley Graff, the economic development specialist for Gresham, Oregon.


Guidepost #4:

Remember that the average fellow with whom you talk, whether he is a member of the council, one of the city’s staff, or a citizen, does not know as much about the job of municipal administration as you know now or will know in the years ahead; so don’t get too far beyond him, for he will not be able to follow you.

As Cal Horton wrote last week, we can interpret Cookingham’s 4th guidepost a couple ways. Like Mr. Horton, I also perceived the tone of status and importance evident in Cookingham’s recommendation and felt hesitant about endorsing the idea that a city manager is somehow better or smartergifted such that s/he may leave ordinary folks behind. Mr. Horton concluded that the era of “Manager as Expert” has passed, saying “I think it is not a good foundation for the kind of facilitative leadership that I believe managers should practice.” I agree. However, in thinking about Cookingham’s 4th guidepost, I believe we can still unearth some guidance that will serve local government leaders in today’s municipal environment.

Cookingham tells us that the average fellow doesn’t know as much about our jobs as we do. In many cases, I would say he’s right. Yet I contend that the average fellow doesn’t need to know because it isn’t his job. Each of us offers our own expertise and it’s that combination of contributions that helps us solve problems and build vibrant communities. As I read Cookingham’s recommendation, I remember that each of us is different, and I distill his guidepost to its simplest elementcommunication. I hear him say, “Tailor your message.” Clear communication so often illuminates a path forward through the many challenges we face in local government.

The role of council is to hear constituents and set policy direction. City staff use their skill and judgment to carry out policy, and citizens contribute by participating in the process and making needs known. Each role and each person adds their own expertise, experience and perspective. A city manager cannot do it all, but s/he can be an expert facilitator. “Increasingly, the city manager’s role has become that of a facilitator and alliance builder, promoting and nurturing partnerships…” So writes John Nalbandian, University of Kansas Professor Emeritus at the School of Public Affairs and Administration, in Politics and Administration in Local Government.

In my mind, a facilitative leader recognizes the differing perspectives at play, works to tease out the needs and motives of stakeholders, and tailors the message so that it is understood within the context of the listener’s assumptions. If I may make my own assumption, perhaps this is what Cookingham meant when he cautioned us to not “get too far beyond.”

The one piece that I see as missing from Cookingham’s messageor at least my interpretation of itis the part about listening. He covers it in guidepost #15 when discussing council meetings (“keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut”), but it’s not present here in the more general sense. Clear communication isn’t possible without listening. Particularly from the perspective of those new to the field, listening is our best tool to learn all aspects of municipal administrationjust as it’s our best tool in becoming clear communicators and facilitative leaders.

Thanks to Mr. Cookingham for his wisdom. Whether his words immediately ring true or instead we endeavor to reveal meaning that endures in today’s municipal environment, his 22 guideposts stand as a testament to the breadth of his knowledge and influence in the field of city management.


The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

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