Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 12

Cookingham Connection - Cheryl LWe’re in the 12th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Cheryl Harrison-Lee. She is the City Administrator for the City of Gardner, Kansas and started her career in municipal government in 1984. She obtained her master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of South Carolina.


Guidepost #12

Work hard to gain and keep the full confidence of the council and the respect of your department heads, and your job will be easier. The confidence of the council is of utmost importance in doing a successful job.

Do you have a minute? What an innocent question, and one that invariably always lasts so much longer than 60 seconds.

Do you take the opportunity for what it isa chance to build relationships and cultivate trust and communication? Or do you see it as just another interruption in an already over-committed day? I think we’d all have to honestly answer it can be more often the latter than the former. But we can turn these tugs on our time into productive and meaningful investments in our relationships with both elected officials and senior management staff.

L.P. Cookingham served for three decades as a city manager and was president of ICMA in 1940. He set forth his philosophy of management for the guidance of administrators in a 1956 PM article, offering 22 “guideposts.” Cookingham’s 12th guidepost may be nearly 60 years old, but it applies at least as much, if not more so, today.

As we all know, technical skills are only part of the toolkit of an effective city manager/administrator. Blending relationships, needs, personalities, competing agendas and limited resources can be more than challenging. One of the ways to keep everything moving smoothly and seamlessly is to create an environment of trust and competence. And the first step toward creating that environment is listening.

Endless conversations, meetings and phone calls feel like such a drain on our productivity, but we must remember that these contacts and interactions build the bedrock of effective relationships. Elected officials and senior management staff alike sometimes just need to be heard. Fostering an environment of communication and interaction builds a foundation of trust and honesty.

Take that minute, or two or ten, and just listen. Then, cut off the interaction with an acknowledgement of what was said and an offer to circle back later if the issue merits continued discussionat a scheduled time, rather than as a drive-by meeting. Once your audience feels heard, they may not need resolution, or may be more willing to wait until resolution is possible. “Just listen” is such an easy thing to say. But we all want to fix and improve and respond, which isn’t always possible in those two-minute conversations, and isn’t always necessary.

Practice just listeningit’s one of the most important communication tools we have, and can lead to confident and respect-filled relationships.


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.

One response

  1. […] in local government. You heard what the city administrator of Gardner, Kansas had to say about Cookingham’s 12th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of John McCarter. John is the Management Assistant for the City […]

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