Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 18

We’re in the 18th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Rick Usher. He is the assistant city manager for Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to that, he was the assistant to the city manager. Usher holds a B.S. in Construction Engineering Technology from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.

Guidepost #18

” Always take the chip off the complainant’s shoulder before you let him go. This will be a hard task in some cases, but use every resource at your command to make friends out of potential enemies.

In my 29 years as a city employee, it has become clear that those in the community that act as if they have a chip on their shoulder are in this position because they feel slighted or alienated by not receiving attention that they are perceiving others may be getting at their expense.  In these cases, I try to make an extra effort to understand the source of the person’s complaints and create some connection on common ground. In Kansas City, there are really only 2 degrees of separation between you and someone you know in common with someone else. So, building a relationship through shared connections goes a long way towards building trust, assures them that their needs are being heard, and that any necessary action will be taken to resolve their complaints.

Most importantly – avoid putting a chip there in the first place. Find out how it got there. Find out if your staff has inadvertently provoked an issue. I was once actually accused of creating a customer’s problems because I was so easily able to resolve them. Often times, by empowering staff to collaborate to solve problems, the City Manager’s Office staff is guaranteed to be the hero because our role is to act as community problem solvers and relationship builders. Empowering your staff to resolve issues at the service level is one of the most powerful ways of avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Oftentimes, the chip on someone’s shoulder is being carried based on a poor perception of government services rather than actual experience. In these cases, go where your colleagues are avoiding and use your networking connections to make sincere contact. Showing up is 90% of community engagement success. The rest is follow-through. Identifying local civic groups that meet regularly and attending their meetings periodically—even when there is no agenda item with your name on it—helps to build relationships that will stand through any crisis that may come. Essentially, good community relations are best built outside of a crisis.

Listen and empathize with the complainant and you will most often be able to find common ground. Most importantly, you must recognize their investment in your community. Whether they are residents, business owners, or visitors, all have recognized on some level the value of being part of your community and will often go above and beyond to make your community successful.

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.

Happy Thanksgiving from SGR!


A Desperate Cry for Leadership

John Maxwell has made popular this definition of leadership:

Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In trying to illustrate that definition, I often use this metaphor: Every person has two buckets.  In one hand is a bucket of water.  In one hand is a bucket of gasoline.  Empowering leaders know when to use each bucket.  Disruptive leaders do not. The way you use each bucket is the way you influence individuals, groups, and situations.

When a wise leader comes upon a situation that’s volatile and tense, he/she doesn’t pour gasoline upon it!  That’s a situation where cooler heads need to prevail.  That calls for a bucket of water so that you can put that fire out.  Imagine the damage that’s created when a disruptive, dysfunctional, or downright MEAN leader comes into a volatile setting and just adds to it!  That’s pouring gasoline on a fire, and it won’t be long before it’s worse than ever.

On the other hand, not all fires need to be put out. We’ve probably all seen times when a person in the organization gets really excited about the new vision, the new challenges, or the new opportunities—only to have someone “pour cold water” all over their aspirations.  It may even have happened to you!  That’s when an empowering leader uses her bucket of gasoline!  That’s a situation that calls for encouragement and enthusiasm!

Everyone has both buckets in their possession.  Good leaders just know when to use the right bucket.  I thought about that this week as I watched the news from Ferguson, Missouri.  I saw some good examples and some bad examples, didn’t you?  I saw some leaders who were definitely pouring water where it needed to be, but also some who seemed to be agitating others—pouring gasoline upon what was already a tense situation.

The issues that the City of Ferguson is facing are complex, complicated, and confusing.  There are no easy answers.  The city (and the nation) will need leaders who know which bucket to use in each different situation.

The important thing is not to get caught in the trap of saying what this person or that group should do somewhere else.  The most important thing for you to do as a leader is to use your influence where you are—in your city, in your department—to promote fairness, lawfulness, peace, empathy, and real prosperity for everyone.

There’s a popular commercial that poses the question, “What’s in your wallet?”  Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask yourself before you rush into action is, “What’s in your bucket?”

Mike Mowery

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

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 17

We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what ICMA Senior Advisor Kurt Bressner had to say about Cookingham’s 17th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Brian Southey. Brian is a Management Analyst for Elk Grove Village. He earned his MPA from the University of Illinois at Springfield .

Guidepost #17:

Never put in writing anything you can’t prove. Someday someone might embarrass you with it.

In Mr. Bressner’s piece discussing L.P.  Cookingham’s 17th Guidepost, he explained the impact of Cookingham’s “Food for Thought: Guidepost for City Managers” on his career. Mr. Bressner carried, as he describes, a yellowed 1975 paper edition with him for over 33 years throughout his multiple career stops.  On the other end of the career spectrum is where I stand; in roughly the past 10 months, I have been introduced to the Guidepost for the first time and watched my local government career move from a Management Internship to a full-time Analyst position. Throughout those 10 months, I have had the chance to read about L.P. Cookingham the person, his accomplishments, and study his Guideposts.

As an emerging local government employee I am always eager for the opportunity to learn new theories and perspectives about local government leadership. The ELGL Cookingham Guidepost series has been one of those opportunities. Every week has been a new chance to compare my views on a Guidepost with the fresh perspectives of both an established and emerging manager’s views. It has been exciting to read Guidepost reviews that differ from the principals and examples I had originally formed. I approached this week no differently. I decided I would study the Guidepost and form my own beliefs before I read the thoughts of the established manager, Mr. Bressner.

After originally reading through all of L.P. Cookingham’s Guidepost and eventually focusing on the 17th Guidepost—Never put in writing anything you can’t prove. Someday someone might embarrass you with it—I began to consider the stories I’d heard about individuals working in the government arena either lying or bending the truth on resumes, reports, speeches, memos, and more.  All the instances I was associating with the 17th Guidepost were those of unethical people performing in unethical ways.  Each example of what I had believed illustrated the 17th Guidepost was an instance where someone performed in a manner to further their own careers, agendas, or policies ahead of the betterment of the people they served.  I began thinking back to the classes I took on ethics during graduate school and especially about the importance of following the ICMA Code of Ethics. Then I read Mr. Bressner’s take on the Guidepost and my perspective on the core principals of the 17th Guideline were changed for the better.

Focusing on the ethical issues I perceived to be the core principals of the 17th Guidepost I missed the brilliance of L.P. Cookingham’s work. Mr. Bressner perfectly demonstrated the transcendence of the original “Food for Thought: Guidepost for City Managers”. Tying the 17th Guidepost to social media showed that even as the Guidepost gets ready to turn 60 years old, it remains as relevant today as it did in 1956. With the help of Mr. Bressner and Mr. Cookingham, I recognized three areas I need to pay close attention to as I continue to grow my career.

1)“Brevity does not offer structure for including an extensive recap of facts and contexts.”
I am guilty of occasionally communicating in short messages and not conveying my full thoughts on subjects, policies, and projects. When using e-mail, text, or Twitter I too often focus on quickly creating a short message and fail to gauge the effectiveness of the message in conveying my ideas. As digital communication becomes a bigger part of the workplace around me, I need to ensure that I treat digital communication techniques with the same level of professionalism I would a personal meeting, formal letter, or memo.

2)The Importance of a facts cabinet
I will not always have the time to write a 1,000 word e-mail or memo with cited facts and I also cannot ignore the fact that there is a time and a place where text and Twitter are effective forms of communication. When using a short form of communication, I need to be sure that the message I am conveying is thoughtful, honest, and supported by evidence.  When evidence is not supported directly in a message, it still needs to be available to my audience in a transparent manner.

3)Credibility as a Manager
Ignoring an effective communication process is sure to guarantee my time working in the public sector will be brief. The less effective I am at communicating with my coworkers, supervisors, council members, and the community I serve, the less likely I will be to succeed.

Mr. Bressner did a tremendous job displaying principals we can all follow for the rest of our careers.  With help from established leaders like him and guidance from documents such as L.P. Cookingham’s “Food for Thought: Guidepost for City Managers” I hope to one day reflect on my own decades of service in the public sector.

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.

6 Questions to Discuss with Your Leadership Team

Sometimes, you just need to pull your team aside for a good discussion…

So, I was asked to help come up with some discussion questions about this era of perpetual innovation. These might be useful for any leadership team’s “let’s think about things” discussion.

#1 – How have our personal lives changed because of new technology? What changes do you think are coming “right around the corner”?

#2 – How have our work habits changed because of new technology? What changes do you think are coming next/soon?

#3 – What kinds of jobs are in danger of being lost or replaced by technological innovations?

#4 – How does the “always on” technological reality endanger the work-life balance?

#5 – What are our customers needing from us next that technological innovation might help us deliver in a better way? In other words, where and how do we need to innovate by adapting new technology?

#6 – So, if this is truly a perpetually innovating age, especially with technological innovation, is our company innovative enough? (Are we an innovative company? An “early adopter” company? An early majority, or a late majority company? A “laggard” company? Why do you put us in the category you put us in?)

Where is your leadership team, your company, on this chart? — Click on image for full view

Where is your leadership team, your company, on this chart? — Click on image for full view

You could probably come up with six better questions.  Or, at least, add to or edit these.  But, the discussion could definitely be valuable.  I’ve got a hunch that this is a discussion to have on a pretty regular basis.

What questions would you use for your discussion?

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

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 17

We’re in the 17th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Kurt Bressner. He is the Florida Senior Advisor  for ICMA,  a position he has held since September 2011. During Bressner’s 38-year career in the public sector he has served as city/village manager for several cities in Florida and Illinois. Bressner holds an MPA from Northern Illinois University.

Guidepost #17

“Never put in writing anything you can’t prove. Someday someone might embarrass you with it.

I kept a copy of Mr. Cookingham’s “Food for Thought: Guideposts for City Managers” in my top desk drawer throughout my career as a City Manager. Originally published in 1956 in ICMA’s Public Management, this document was reprinted in 1975, also in Public Management. That yellowed paper version stayed with me throughout my career as a city manager of four communities over 33 years. Now retired, I still keep it handy. In 2008, I asked that ICMA reprint the “Guideposts” for a third time.  The original advice by Mr. Cookingham is still pertinent and crucial to effective public leadership. This document remains a relevant, reliable source of guidance for all levels of government service.

First, consider a simple, implied corollary to this Guideline: Choose effective words. The vocabulary of government business is complex and easily misconstrued. The use of jargon can mystify the public. One simple remedy is to remember your audience: Your written words should neither intimidate nor insult your readers.

Managing government has moved into the rapid-fire digital arena. Memoranda and letters are no longer the primary methods of communication. Today, the common channels are emails, texts, tweets, and online posts, each form with varying strengths and weaknesses. Compared to conventional letters or memos, email and social media present special challenges, including limited scope of message and easy opportunities for misuse of context. Brevity does not offer structure for including an extensive recap of facts and context.

Furthermore, even a 140-character Tweet based on a false premise, untruth, or inaccuracy is as damaging as a lengthy agenda packet memo with the same deficiencies and often garners greater circulation than a conventional memo. Failing to back up written communication without complete, accurate facts and full disclosure can redirect a city manager’s path from success to job change. I suggest that regardless of the method of written word, the importance of a “facts cabinet” remains the same. For every issue or matter that involves the public’s business, the facts, context, and reasons for change must be readily available through careful notes, corollary documents, and files. The more that this facts cabinet is digitally available, the easier it is to manage. Elected officials and the public will certainly call for back-up proof as a public policy matter continues through its decision cycle. Similarly, the press will ask for information routinely. The sad reality is that facts, context, or reasons for change may not find their way into the story. The chances of deliberate distortion increase in blogs. Nevertheless, in all cases, the proof must be provided or readily available in government documents. Visualize a cabinet of facts, context, and reasons for change in everything you write. You must be able to prove the facts forming the basis of the issue definition and evaluation. Ideally, these facts  are a direct component of a report. Of the several methods of written communication, a conventional memo provides much friendlier turf to include or embed accurate facts, context, and reasons for change.

Credibility as a manager –not only on a specific issue in real time, but also in general over time– relates to this Guideline, too. Repeated gaps in facts or false interpretation of facts is often perceived as conduct unbecoming a public official, resulting in short tenure with multiple and possibly declining career stops. Sadly, conduct at the national level that obscures the facts of an issue is not infrequent.  Once the microscope of media commentary magnifies the situation, the backstroking begins; but the damage to the organization or to the individual in charge has already been accomplished.  In most cases, an individual “takes the hit” for the organization’s elasticity with or obstruction of truth. After solemn promises by replacement leadership to do better, the issue then fades away. Yet subsequent public cynicism continues to taint the perception of local government with damaging disbelief.

In summary, modern communication methods and media demand close attention to Guideline #17: Routinely and resolutely clarify the issues you face with accurate facts, context, and reasons for change while practicing neutral, full disclosure to strengthen your managing skills and solidify your career path.

I close with these words of Lao Tzu about the path of truth, a worthy addendum to Mr. Cookingham’s wise Guidelines:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

― Lao Tzu

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.

Here’s to New Adventures

When you break it down, a career is a cycle of learning a set of skills, developing those skills, and then taking advantage of opportunities to use those skills in a more challenging setting—which will, in turn, develop new skills.

A failure in any part of this cycle can lead to stagnation.

If you’re not learning, you’ll be incompetent at your position. If you’re not developing, you won’t be an asset to your organization’s future. And if you’re not taking opportunities to challenge your developed skills, you won’t have career depth.

Which part of the cycle are you currently in?

As for me, I’m about to embark upon a new challenge—meaning that this will be my last blog post as a weekly contributor.

Moving on to the next stage of life isn’t easy.

There’s a bit of anxiousness stirring inside of me for what’s to come; but if I don’t take this leap, I wouldn’t be practicing what I preached (like fear and comfort being the number one inhibitor of success).

I certainly grew in my profession at Strategic Government Resources. The knowledge I acquired is too lengthy to list, and the work environment is truly one-of-a-kind.

You’ve heard this many times on this blog, and you’ll hear it many more: change is the only constant. And now, it’s time for me to live by those words.

So, thank you very much for allowing me to be a part of your morning routine every week. And each person who has personally contacted me to leave a kind note will never be forgotten.

Please feel free to stay connected with me on LinkedIn if you’d like.

In the words of Ernie Harwell, “It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.”

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

Learning to Lead is Like Learning to…

We spent the last week with our 6 month old granddaughter. She’s just learning to crawl. She could probably crawl right now except, due to our visit, she received hardly any time to practice. I’m sure you know what I mean. It was amazing to watch, however, over a one week period how much progress she made at learning to crawl. It made me think about the effort it takes to learn to really be a good leader, and several lessons came alive in my mind.

  1. It takes more than talk. When we arrived at our granddaughter’s house, she was trying to crawl. However, she wasn’t doing it quite right, so I explained to her the proper way to crawl and described three common applications of crawling techniques. It didn’t help much. When I put her back on the blanket, she acted as if I hadn’t said a word about it. Repeating myself didn’t help. It reminded me that leadership is not merely a transfer of knowledge. There are things to teach, but there’s no substitute for actually giving people the chance to try and fail and try and fail and try, try, try again until they succeed.
  1. It takes strength. Part of the fun part of the visit was just noticing how much stronger she got in a week’s time.  At first she could barely hold herself up on her forearms. After a week of “Building Strength with Pops Workouts” she was doing 50 one-armed push-ups. Well, I may be exaggerating a little, but it was remarkable to me to see, not only the increased personal strength, but also to see how much she needed that strength in order to be able to crawl. I remembered again, that being a leader requires a lot of inner strength. And it takes hardships, experience, and failures to develop that strength.
  1. It takes learning. It’s fascinating to me to watch how a baby is constantly learning. Miraculously, they develop the ability to sort through one experience after another to make sense of the situation and to develop their abilities. They don’t know how to crawl at first, but they learn. Good leaders never stop learning. Sincere leaders agonize over trying to decide if they should do in the current situation what they did in a previous situation; they wrestle with the thought that, not only should they have done something different, but also, should they have done the same thing, but done it differently! It’s painful to watch this process. It can tempt you to rush in quickly with simple solutions and comforting excuses, but the truth is that this self-analysis is one of the most important aspects of learning to lead—and to lead well.

Mike Mowery

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

If the People You Lead Do Not Grow as Persons, You’re Failing as a Leader

Crucial to good practice in leadership is the understanding that what we intend to be determines what we are able to do…
Larry Spears, in his introduction to his book of essays on servant leadership, Reflections on Leadership: How Robert Greenleaf’s Theory of Servant Leadership Influenced Today’s Management Thinkers

Here’s an interesting observation. Robert Greenleaf was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (a Quaker). And, that Robert Greenleaf was the “father” of the entire concept, which became something of a movement, known as Servant Leadership. Who he was shaped what he became which shaped his leadership philosophy.

So, look at the quote at the top: “what we intend to be determines what we are able to do.”

Do you ever wonder how people who traffic in some form of deception live with themselves? The other day, after about my tenth call in a month that began with the words “Hello, I’m from the computer department,” I asked the nameless voice “what computer department?” I fairly politely told the voice that I wasn’t interested, and hung up. But, this phone approach implies that somehow he was representing the computer department in my company, or some company that I have contracted with. It started with deception.

My wife recently fell victim to the latest magazine subscription scam. She was charged for magazines she did not sign up for, and now she is trying to get her money back. I think she will – but, it will take some time, effort, and more than a little frustration. (Read about one version of this here).

So… what kind of person participates in this kind of work? What kind of leader hires and trains these people? How do they sleep at night? How do they live with themselves? (I wish they would bring me in to present my synopsis of Servant Leadership).

Now, these aren’t close to the worst people in our society (we sadly live in a world with the really bad… consider the actions of ISIS).

But, I spent some time reading more about Servant Leadership this weekend. I came away with a sense of sadness. I have too much exposure to leadership books and business books about building successful organizations that focus on winning, profits, dominance in a competitive arena, all with so little attention given to this kind of concern:

The best test is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

(Read my earlier blog post Servant Leadership – Start with Robert Greenleaf’s Original; All that Follows is Commentary and Elaboration).
If our companies, organizations, and institutions are not concerned—and concerned first and always with helping the people they serve “grow as persons”—then we’ve got a great and sad deficiency in our thinking, don’t you think?
Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 16

Cookingham Connection - Sarah H We’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 Phoenix, Arizona had to say about Cookingham’s 16th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Sarah Hazel. Sarah is an ICMA Local Government Management Fellow. She earned her MPA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Guidepost #16:

Don’t pursue your program at a faster pace than the council, the employees and public can follow. You will always see plenty of things to do and have plenty of changes to make, but be sure that everyone understands why you are doing this…

When I decided to transition careers from the fast paced campaign world to the land of local government, I was confident that I would bring my “get it done” work approach to the public sector. See problems. See opportunities. Act. In fact, my mantra was General George Patton’s, –  “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  I mean…why wait until tomorrow, what could be done today? And, because local government leaders have opportunities to do great big wonderful things for their employees and communities, I figured, there is no time to waste. The instant gratification loving, public service motivated millennial in me was screaming, “Let’s go!”

But there are forces at work in the public sector, which are decidedly more complex than those of the private sector – values such as accountability, transparency, responsiveness, and social equity. What may seem like a great idea and thoughtfully crafted solution can unexpectedly became controversial at a council meeting where administrators are accountable to more than staff and a single bottom line.  Public administrators are also accountable to the council and the citizens in an environment of complete transparency.

Quickly, I learned there are many reasons to do as Mr. Cookingham and Phoenix City Manager urge, “Go slow to go fast.” Here are a couple:

1) Creating space for employee engagement and input can foster new ideas and commitment.
Great feats don’t become real through the efforts of a single, person. They typically require a team effort, and team efforts take time. In practice, as a Chapel Hill intern, I witnessed the City manager commit to figuring out an employee compensation system by engaging employees and asking them about their values. Longevity? Performance? What does fair mean to them? While my Manager could have proposed a pay structure right under the budget deadline, by committing to engage employees, there was a higher chance of overall satisfaction in the selected system. The future proposal, albeit months later would be based on input, not assumptions.

2) Involving citizens, builds trust and helps to reorder priorities.
Dan Fenn Jr. wrote in the The Trusted Leader that the public leader must help the public see how they can have an impact—that it won’t win glory for the individual, but it will make a difference. It will allow us to think deeply about what we are doing and why. One cool example of this is happening right now in the City of Charlotte, through the Community Investment Plan. Over the next several years, $816.4 million in proposed community improvements will be planned, designed and implemented. A huge component of this plan is public involvement. Neighborhoods will be actively engaged from beginning to end as to how to invest in Charlotte’s future. Through that involvement, priorities will adjust, and the community will shape their neighborhoods with pride.

Thanks to some great leadership I have been fortunate enough to witness, I have seen Cookingham’s advice in practice. Sincere and open discourse among various parties might be a bit slower, but lasting programs and impacts don’t happen overnight. Therefore, this millennial is ready to engage and get to work smarter, not faster.

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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