Emerging Generations in Local Government – 20

We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what Assistant City Manager Michelle Crandall had to say about Cookingham’s 20th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Ben McCready. Ben is the Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Rock Island, Illinois. He holds an MPA from Northern Illinois University.

Guidepost #20:

Keep your personal contacts with other city managers. The greatest compliment you can pay them is to ask how they handle a certain problem.

In a typical week, one million people migrate to call the world’s urban areas home. To think that all this occurs in a “business as usual” environment couldn’t be further from the truth. Just as the buildings and boundaries that define cities are constantly in flux, so too are the organizations and individuals a community relies upon most. As City Manager Michelle Crandall explained in her post last Friday, over our careers we build relationships with mentors, colleagues, and friends through shared experiences. Over time, mutual successes, challenges, and even failures build a foundation of trust and respect, enabling us to communicate clearly and ask the most important questions without hesitation. When well-maintained, this foundation is invaluable, permitting us the benefit of hearing what we need to, when we need to, from someone who has “been there”. When faced with challenges, it is far more preferable to rely on well-established connections than a desperate attempt to rekindle a neglected relationship.

The Mentor:

    Just like a city, the relationship with a mentor is ever-evolving. The mentee must recognize that context plays a role in every response. A mentor is not a static individual, they too learn and are shaped by experience (especially considering the fact that local elections continually change the landscape in which they operate). This, perhaps, speaks most directly to the words of Cookingham, for while an aspiring professional may have many questions, the wise mentor learns from their own responses as well. By maintaining the relationship, we afford those we respect the most an opportunity to share in the continual process of career development. While the willingness to ask is essential to beginning this relationship, the willingness to listen is key to its continued growth. By continually asking the right questions, we truly discover what a mentor has to offer.

The Colleagues:

    In a recent NPR segment the host discussed relationships, specifically how our longest relationships in life are typically those with our siblings. From a professional standpoint, it is apparent that it will be my peers, colleagues, and classmates I share this profession with the longest. Although we share similar motivations, as local government leaders we should not limit our connection to a group project, shared employer, or happenstance. Local government provides the same core services, yet each community uniquely tailors the provision of those services to its own circumstances. Without a willingness to discuss our successes and failures, we do a disservice to those we serve, operating without the benefit of shared knowledge. The connections with our colleagues should never wither at the expense of any hesitation to simply reach out and “ask”.


    Last Friday Michelle Crandall’s words couldn’t have been more spot-on: “The local government profession is one that presents challenges and stresses that often times only those also in the field truly understand”. While I have addressed the relationship with peers, something must also be said for recognizing a friendship. Friendships provide an opportunity to share not only frustrations, but an opportunity to listen. The ability to speak safely without fear of judgment is crucial to maintaining personal well-being in this dynamic career. As friendships form, veteran and aspiring professionals undoubtedly find true value in knowing that our concerns are not our own. There are, in fact, others who ponder the same dilemmas and have “been there” themselves.

In this incredible profession, where success is ever more dependent on our ability to balance the proven and innovative, it’s astonishing to realize how relevant L.P. Cookingham’s Guideposts remain. There are few things in the world of local government that remain so applicable to a veteran and emerging leader. In closing, I would echo Crandall’s call to action—“Start building and keep building strong professional relationships.” They are indeed an investment that not only benefits ourselves, but the organizations and communities we serve. While relationships with mentors, colleagues, and friends are ever-evolving, those we depend upon to help guide us may be one of the few constants we encounter in this exciting career.

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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