Emerging Generations in Local Government – 12

Cookingham Connection - John MWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader 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 of Sugar Land, Texas. He earned his Master of Public Administration from Oakland University.

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.

This is solid life advice from Cookingham. I have always seen confidence and respect as a result of not only growth and positive action, but also from conducting yourself and your organization in an honest and genuine fashiontrust being the glue that holds it all together. Even if you get incredible results, you won’t gain anyone’s confidence or respect if they cannot trust what you’re saying or trust that you’re running your organization with integrity.

Having never sat in the manager’s seat, my thoughts can only come from what I have observed from managers I have worked for; all of whom I believe have exemplified this guidepost.

A few years back when I had my first internship in a city manager’s office, I remember being surprised at how city council communicated with the manager’s office. Everything requested by one council member went to every council member. Everything from e-mails to reports to the all-important weekly Council packet was shared with everyone. I’ve seen this, in varying degrees and forms, in every Manager’s Office since. At the time, I saw it as unnecessary. You know that most of the time the only person interested in the information is the person asking for it, so why give it to everyone?

As time progressed, I began to see the dynamics of working with Council, and I saw the power of this shared information. Sure, addressing questions outside of council meetings saves time and can shorten up meetings; but more than that, when the entire body is operating off of the same information, they can move forward as one. No one is privy to information someone else does not have. This open and honest communication, to me, is the fundamental basis confidence and trust are built on.

Cookingham also talks about the importance of respect from department heads. I would even take this one step further and apply it to the entire staff. Different people approach relationships in different ways; everyone has their own management style, but trust remains a key component. I’ve been lucky enough to work for managers who have had excellent relationships with their departments heads built on trust. Disagreements are inevitable; but at the end of the day, we are all playing for the same team. Having faith in management to make important decisions is crucial.

Respect and confidence are built on trust, which comes from being open, honest, and genuine in your everyday interactions. When I first started here in Sugar Land, I was given the advice, “Dishonest people might shoot to the top quickly, but they are always found out and rarely last long.” The dynamics between managing staff and Council relations are very complex and something I’ve enjoyed observing and learning about over my career. The only solid conclusion I have drawn thus far is that the whole thing can fall apart if no one trusts each other.

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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