Monthly Archives: October, 2014

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 14

Cookingham Connection - Ray GWe’re in the 14th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Ray Gosack. He is the City Administrator for the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas, a position she has held since 2011. Prior to that, he served as Fort Smith’s Deputy City Administrator for more than a decade. Gosack obtained his MPA from the University of Arkansas.

Guidepost #14

Be sure to develop good press relations; give all the time necessary to help the press, radio, and other media to keep the public informed, because any one of these media can ruin your program with very little effort.

Mr. Cookingham’s 14th guidepost remains relevant today, even considering the explosion of social media. If he were with us today, I think Mr. Cookingham would readily expand his wisdom of developing good press relations to include social media.

Our means of mass communication with the public is ever-evolving. Although social media is important, relations with the traditional mainstream media are equally (if not more) important. Many of the principles which apply to the traditional press also apply to our social media communications. I believe these guidelines are timeless regardless of the communication medium.

  • Always be honest. Always!
  • Be accessible, responsive and timely. Respect the media’s deadlines and the time-sensitive nature of the news business.
  • Develop business-like relationships. Get to know the publishers, editors, news directors, and assignment managers. These relationships help when things are going well and when things aren’t going so well.
  • Treat the media equally. Don’t play favorites. If you initiate a story, make it available to all media outlets.
  • Present your story with a perspective that makes it newsworthy. A reporter will want to know why his/her readers should care about your story.
  • Be a trusted source of knowledge and information. Stick to the facts, and minimize your personal opinions.
  • Get your message across. Don’t let reporters put words into your mouth. They can’t print what you don’t say.
  • Nurture your staff to deal with the media. You can’t be the only player in the game. Make sure there’s depth on your bench. However, there’s some stories for which you must take the lead, and which can’t be delegated to another staffer.
  • Don’t let a reporter bait you into being a source of confidential information. One of their oldest tricks is to discuss a confidential matter with you as if it’s common knowledge. If you take the bait, you’ve become their on-the-record source. Keep the hook out of your mouth unless you want to be quoted as the source of the information.

Social and traditional media help us do our jobs. They keep the public informed, which is necessary for a citizenry to be supportive of its local government. Many of the principles necessary for success are the same, regardless of which media is the communication tool.

What additional guidelines, either for social media or traditional media, support Mr. Cookingham’s 14th guidepost?

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.

Stay Ready, So You Don’t Have to Get Ready

Back when I first started playing basketball, I quickly found out that defensive positions were my favorite.

Defense required quickness and alertness. But if I got tired, it was definitely noticeable on the court with the amount of fouls I would make.

One afternoon, my basketball coach took me to the side and said, “Hope, I can’t afford for you to get tired and start fouling everyone.”

I told him, “I know, but how else am I supposed to get the ball?”

He said, “You’re reacting instead of being proactive. Defense is all about anticipating what’s going to happen next. If you don’t anticipate, you’re just reacting—and that’s how fouls happen.”

A lot of preventable mishaps occur in organizations because leaders start getting tired and stop wanting to play defense.

With such a hectic work schedule, it’s hard to fit in time to make sure your team is ready for whatever emergencies or disasters that may come its way. But events like the tragic school shooting in Washington lets us know that anything can happen at any time.

What’s your game plan? How are you, as all leaders should, anticipating what could happen next?

All those plans, drills, and practice procedures are there for a reason. When’s the last time your organization had a fire drill, or a tornado drill, or a lockdown?

What about the technological side of things? Do you have the latest anti-virus software? Do you have a social media policy? Is it up to date? (The internet is constantly changing, so anything older than three years old needs to be rechecked.)

This isn’t the time to conclude that “you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it.”

Know how you’re going to cross the bridge before you can even see it.

You have to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready. Otherwise, you’ll always be a step behind the game.

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

Take Your Problem Seriously

Solving Tough Problems book imageI just finished reading Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities by Adam Kahane, which is a book about the process that South Africa went through in the early 1990s to end apartheid. It’s a fascinating look at things from the view of the facilitator who led some of the initial discussions about finding a way forward after apartheid. Kahane relates one of the stories that was often told in South Africa in those days. It went something like this:

“We have two options for moving forward: (1) The Practical Way and (2) The Miraculous Way. The Practical Way is for Angels to come from heaven and take over. The Miraculous Way is for us to all sit down and talk it out and find a way to live and work together.”

Does that sound familiar? It seems that in some places, it would be a miracle somewhat akin to the parting of the Red Sea for different factions to sit down and work together. Yet, the truth is that there is no real way forward without this!

It confronts me with a paradox, too, because on the one hand, I believe that leaders have to cast vision and motivate people to action. On the other hand, I know it’s not enough to get to the top of the mountain—you have to get there with your people, too. So, leadership must be both empowering and inclusive. It’s a delicate dance, but a leader must always be balancing the question of “How do we move forward?” along with the equally weighty question of “Who’s not sitting at the table that needs to be?”

The temptation is to make sure that there are only seats available for those who see things like you do. However, not only do those with opposing views need to be there, you and your followers need them to be there, too. Kahane offers several suggestions that can help us as leaders be inclusive while not sacrificing the agenda to dysfunctional “disgruntled-about-everything” people.

  1. Listen to everyone.
  2. Speak freely from your heart.
  3. Establish and follow reasonable norms and expectations for conflict engagement.
  4. Believe that it’s possible to find the win-win for everyone.
  5. Realize that without seeking the win-win, it’s likely that a lose-lose scenario will prevail.

You may not be building or rebuilding a nation, but you are probably building or rebuilding an organization, a city, a department, or team; and let’s face it, nations are made up of teams, organizations, communities, cities, etc. The stronger we are at the foundational level, the stronger we will be as a whole.

The problem your organization faces is probably serious to you and to those living within its context. Don’t diminish it. Your part as a leader in solving it is important—be sure you treat it accordingly.

Mike Mowery

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

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 13

Cookingham Connection - Melanie CWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what the city manager of Tualatin, Oregon had to say about Cookingham’s 13th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Melanie Curl. Melanie is the HR Employment Specialist for the City of Keller, Texas. She earned her bachelor’s in English/Communication Studies at the University of North Texas.

Guidepost #13:

Don’t let the “cranks” worry you too much, for if you do they will outlive you.

As with Ms. Lombos, when I contemplated the 13th guidepost, my mind immediately went to “negative”. Frequently, I’ve found that “cranks” are unhappy for one of two reasons: 1. something changed that they didn’t want to, or 2. something didn’t change that they did want to.

“Turning a crank” also came to mind when I pondered the word, as in turning the crank of an old coffee grinder. Those cranks had purpose, but they required a lot more effort to produce the end result. However, with the proper preparation, tools, and effort, coffee got made. How do we apply this mindset to the working world?

  1. Make sure the gears are well-oiled.
    We’ve all heard the phrase, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” I’m not suggesting we jump every time someone complains. There are only 24 hours in a day! However, in many cases, the crank simply wants to be heard. Taking time to actively listen, ask probing questions, and get to the heart of their issue demonstrates to them that they are valued. If their gripe is that the copy machine jams every hour on the hour, that’s something reasonable that could be dealt with. If it’s that they want a 10% raise, wellthat’s something else. Take time to respond to them with, “Here’s what I understand is the issue; here’s why we can’t do exactly what you’re asking for; and here’s some options for moving forward from here.”
  1. Is the crank overloaded?
    In our zest for a trenta-sized end result, is too much being shoveled upon a tall-sized employee? Are expectations being clearly communicated? Are they appropriately skilled or being sufficiently trained to be successful at their job? If the answer is “no”, that’s something we can positively impact. If it’s “yes”, and they’re still cranky? Well…
  1. Repair the mechanism, or find a new one.
    If you’ve had the conversations, they’ve been trained and have all they need to be successful, one message could be: “Here’s the end result we’re going for. I want you to be part of that success. In order to do that, we need xyz from you. If you don’t/can’t provide xyz, then you need to understand that is going to impact your employment with ABC Company”. That phrase, “Manage them up or manage them out” comes to mind. We always hope that the crank can be “repaired” and be part of the success. But if they can’t, find people that can.

I’ve heard the moans and groans from managers who inherited “cranks”it can be such a challenge! Negativity can be toxic, contagious, and draining for someone who is working hard to lead a team. It can be even harder to hold onto your confidence and not let yourself be mentally undercut.

Michael Jordan said, “If you accept the expectation of others, especially the negative ones, then you will never change the outcome.” Don’t let yourself get sucked into the vortex of other people’s crankiness. Have “safe zone” people that you can vent to and mentors to guide you; power walk around the building; hide the good candy in your desk. And remember: “negative people need drama like it’s oxygen. STAY POSITIVE and take their breath away!”

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.

Maybe All Learning Starts With Unlearning

I’ve just read the Kindle sample pages of the new book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. I read about it in a New York Times article by Penelope Green.

I won’t bore you with details about my life-long battle with clutter, but suffice it to say I have not done all that well in defeating this beast.

But, this passage jumped out at me (from the book):

“Do people who have been tidying for more years than others tidy better? The answer is no… Many of them spent so many years applying erroneous conventional approaches that their homes overflow with unnecessary items and they struggle to keep clutter under control with ineffective storage methods. How can they be expected to know how to tidy when they have never studied it properly?”

So, in other words, to learn how to do it “incorrectly” does not make you any better at it over the long haul.

So, in other words, the first real step to learning how to tidy is to unlearn “erroneous conventional approaches” to tidying. (“Conventional approaches” — commonly accepted, but…  wrong).

I’ve got a pretty big hunch that this is truly a universal truth. We have all learned to do a fair number of things incorrectly. And once we learn how to do something/anything incorrectly, we simply keep on doing it incorrectly.

So, the path to genuine learning involves this first step: before we learn, we have to unlearn.

Man, is this hard to do! It’s hard to even recognize; and then, it is really hard to actually unlearn, so that we can then learn.

Randy Mayeux

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

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 13

Cookingham Connection - Sherilyn LWe’re in the 13th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Sherilyn Lombos. She is the City Manager for the City of Tualatin, Oregon, a position she has held since 2006. Prior to that, she worked for various cities in California and the Midwest. Sherilyn obtained her MPA from the University of Kansas.

Guidepost #13

Don’t let the “cranks” worry you too much, for if you do they will outlive you.

Let’s start with the basic question of what is a “crank”? I wish I could call up L.P. Cookingham to see what he meant when he was writing this guidepost, but since I can’t, I did a little informal poll, asking a few of you what you think of when you hear the word “crank”.

I got answers that didn’t surprise me: negative, freely expresses displeasure, grouchy, complains without providing a solution, the antithesis of a problem-solver. The dictionary provided this definition: “an unbalanced person who is overzealous in the advocacy of a private cause.” That’s quite a combination, unbalanced AND overzealous! I also got an interesting response that has made me ponder a bit. One of my co-workers said that she immediately thought of an actual, physical crank; one that you turned or pulled. I checked the dictionary again, and sure enough, there it is: “to turn a crank, as in starting an automobile engine.” The “crank” in this case is the driver of motion and change… more on that later.

When I read L.P. Cookingham’s 13th guidepost, I think of those times when my blood pressure goes through the roof; where I just want to throw papers across the table, stomp out of the room, and slam the door. The “cranks” in my life tend to be those I can’t reason with no matter how hard I try. I take those interactions home; gripe at my husband about them; stew on them; fall asleep thinking about them; come to work the next day with bags under my eyes, desperately downing another cup of coffee after having tossed and turned all night out of sheer frustration.

Cookingham’s guidepost is relevant and timeless as we all have our own versions of “the cranks”. So how do we heed Cookingham’s advice and keep from worrying about them too much and letting them take the joy out of living? I wish I had an easy answer. Of course I don’t, but here are a few random thoughts that may be helpful:

  • Find productive ways to burn off stress.
    For me, there is no substitute for sweat. Lacing up my running shoes and going for a run after a crazy day is so beneficial; I can literally feel the strain melt away. It may not be running for you; maybe it’s biking, or gardening, or walking, or Zumba. Whatever it is, find a way to relieve the pressure; your mind and body will thank you for it, and you’ll undoubtedly have more capacity to gain perspective on the “cranks” in your life.
  • Relax.
    I’ve heard Doris Kearns Goodwin speak a couple of times now, and one of the things she said about both Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt is that even in the midst of huge, national crisis, when literally the weight of the nation was on their shoulders, they found ways to relax and replenish their energy. They recognized the importance of getting their mind off of the crushing stress they were under. For Lincoln, it was going to the theater (which he apparently did over 100 times in his four years in Washington); for Roosevelt, he had a cocktail hour every evening during WWII where the only rule was you couldn’t talk about the war. Perhaps for you, it is stamp collecting, or Sudoku, or crossword puzzles, or movies, or that daily cocktail hour. Take a lesson from two men who had to deal with a lot more than a few “cranks” and find ways to relax and recharge.
  • Be present; carpe diem.
    I know we live in an age where we are connected and can check our emails 24/7. Some of us even have jobs where we have to be accessible outside of the usual “8 to 5” Monday through Friday, but there is something to be said for truly being present and in the moment. Try really focusing on playing that game of LIFE with your son; not scrolling through emails and Facebook until it’s your turn, but really focusing on the experience. Savor the dinner your girlfriend cooked; be in the moment. Go jump on the trampoline with your daughter, and focus on enjoying it. Fight the thoughts of your ridiculously long to-do list or the draft response that’s sitting in your outbox to yet another “crank”. Your family and friends will thank you.
  • Use it for good.
    Back to the concept of a physical crank being the impetus for motion and energy. Can we translate that into our dealings with the “cranks” in our lives? I know I am guilty of not looking past the grouchy, ill-tempered, negative aspects and thereby completely missing a learning opportunity. The larger point (which might actually be good) can get lost in the delivery. Next time you are dealing with a “crank,” take a mental step back and ask yourself if, just maybe, they have a point; and if, just maybe, you could use the crank as an impetus for forward motion.

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.

Change the “How”—Not the “What”

“Things do not change, we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

We all have that one embarrassing picture where our clothing and hairstyle reek of the decade the photograph was taken.

Looking at it now, it’s ridiculous. But back then, it was the style.

The same goes for technology. What was once a bulky corded telephone is now a device that discreetly fits inside your pocket because of society’s shift toward convenience.

The way things are done is constantly changing. Yet, local governments have a history—and somewhat of a stigma—of remaining the same.

Mind you, I didn’t say things are changing; I said the way things are done is changing. Big difference.

And not knowing that difference is the reason why organizations are so resistant to change.

Take social media, for example. Local governments slowly warmed up to the idea, and now it’s a primary means of contact for a number of citizens. But what social media represents is actually a part of the core value listed for many municipalities—communication.

The dedication to provide open and honest information hasn’t changed, but the way you go about doing it has.

Change the “how”—not the “what.”

Keep your mission and core values. Those are the foundation of your organization.

However, don’t be so closed-minded as to reject a different way to portray your mission and values to your citizens.

The people of your community are evolving with each passing generation. Constantly think of ways to reach out to them in a way to which they can relate.

To be a public servant, you have to actually serve the public. And you can’t honestly say you’re serving the public if your services aren’t reflecting the wants and needs of your citizens.

What changes have you made lately that are specifically to the benefit of your citizens?

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

How a Leader Creates the Right Culture

“Move your hands away from the table! Back up slowly. Time’s up! Move away from the table.”

No, it’s not an arrest in process. It’s an SGR instructor informing students that time’s up on the puzzle their group has been working upon.

“Ok, Rotate!”

With those words, the group moves to the next table where they inherit the unfinished puzzle of the previous group. Fortunately for this team, the previous group has made a lot of progress. They inherit a pretty good situation. Not every group is so lucky. Sometimes they inherit a confusing mess.

That’s leadership, right? Sometimes you inherit a pretty good culture, sometimes it’s a mess, and sometimes you create a mess yourself. So, when the culture isn’t what it needs to be, and you don’t have the freedom to just “clean house” and start over, what do you do? How do you create the culture you want?

Organizations become what they talk about. Since its inception, SGR has valued innovation, and the more we talk about innovation, the more it spurs us to become more innovative. If you are what you eat, then your organization is what you talk about.

Think about how it’s been working in your office. What’s everyone talking about? Complaints? Negativity? Time crunch? Scarce resources? Chances are those conversations are driving the culture. It’s amazing how conversation and culture become intertwined.

So, if you want to change the culture, change the conversation. As Bonnie Raitt sang, “Let’s give them something to talk about!” Whether you inherited it, created it, or some combination of the two, if you want to create the right culture, you have to start by talking about the right things.

  1. Determine what your organization’s core values really are. Involve everyone (Yes, Everyone!) in that process. Think Dialogue not Dictation.
  2. Narrow down the list to a manageable number. Ideally, it should be no more than five. (Not every value is a CORE value.)
  3. Talk about them all the time. Really. Everywhere. Relate them to everything. In his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish says that it’s like having preschoolers: “Have a few rules. Live by them. Repeat yourself over and over.” (p. 43)

That’s one way you create the culture. Use a participative process that enables your team to identify a few core values. Live by them. Talk about them all the time. It won’t be too long before you begin to notice that you are becoming what you talk about.

Mike Mowery

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

Money isn’t Your Team’s Motivation

“Work and play well with others – the world is made up of teams.”
– Ken May, CEO of Topgolf

This is what it boils down towho do you have on your team? Every other question seems to come after this one.

Ken May, CEO of Topgolf, recently spoke at an event I attended. He gave a little history, some leadership counsel, and added some good career advice.

I liked the themes he emphasized: the importance of servant leadership (the leader works for the people he/she serves); learn all you can (he went back to school to earn his MBA, and he said he never would have made it out of middle management if he had not gone back to school); and admit your mistakes.

It was really good counsel and advice.

But, back to the centrality of teams. May talked about how to motivate the people on his team(s). He said that there were really only three things that motivate people:

  1. Recognition
  2. Responsibility
  3. Money

Recognize every person for every job done well. Recognize them in big ways after a big win, or after an extra effortespecially in a moment of crisis (an all-hands-on-deck moment).

Also, give people responsibility. When it is a person’s job to be responsible for a specific area/task, that can be very motivating.

Get these two right, and your team members won’t be motivated solely by money. In fact, May believes that money is the poorest motivator of the three.

And he was especially high on recognition. He told good stories about how we each cherish “recognition” at any levelbeginning in our earliest years.

So, who can you recognize today on your team? And how will you do it?

Randy Mayeux

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

Simplify Problems Before Solving Them

ReBlog Header - Leadership Freak
Your worst problem is believing you know the problem when you don’t. The next is solving it.

Procter & Gamble set out to design new soap for cleaning floors. It’s a challenge because strong soap cleans dirt, but it also strips finishes and irritates skin. After years of failed attempts, P&G came up with the Swiffer – paper towel on a stick. Mopping was the problem, not soap.*

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, finds the “right” problem with one word, “Why.”

“The one thing that Tony is really good at, that I’ve learned, is to always ask why. … If you ask why enough, you can turn, even the most complex problem into its simplest form.” – Jamie Naughton

Use curiosity to explore problems before seeking answers.

Simplify before solving.

Rush to problems; don’t rush to solutions. Answers become complications when they solve “wrong” problems.

Simplify complexity by asking why.

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Why do we need to do this?
  3. Why do we keep things in place if they aren’t working?
  4. Why is this a problem?
  5. Why do we care?

“It might be ten why’s, it might be three whys, and then you can say, “Ok. Let’s fix that.” – Jamie Naughton

Simple problems have simple answers.

Speed problem simplifyingslow solution finding. Go slow to go fast. Solving the wrong problem slows or stalls progress.

For example:

Problem –  I’m stressed.
Fast solution –  massage.
Explore the problem – I’m stressed. Why? I have too much to do. Why? Because I can’t say, “No.” Why can’t you say, “no?” And so on…

What if stress isn’t the problem? Fix the simplest problem. Then, get a massage just for fun.

How can leaders slow the solution finding process in order to find real problems?

How do you find solutions?

*(There’s debate concerning the origin of the Swiffer. Regardless, P&G found the “right” answer when they identified the “right” problem.)

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