The wind that famously sweeps down the plain can quickly become a violent vortex leveling everything in its path … homes, schools, entire communities. Oklahoma local government leaders are experts on storm recovery.
A couple of years ago when I was the Executive Director for the City Management Association of Oklahoma, I wanted to host an informational panel discussion at one of our quarterly meetings and invite managers who had been through the worst of the storms to participate. Other conferences focused on the administrative or technical aspects of storm recovery. I wanted to hear about the leadership skills that these managers drew on to restore the confidence of their community and heal its spirit after such devastation.
Our panel included managers who had been through severe weather events that left death and extreme destruction in their wake. This experienced panel had walked through the fire and some of their shoes were still charred when we met.
First we asked how they dealt with their own stress. One manager shared that he couldn’t always turn to his normal support system because his spouse and family were also experiencing the shock of what happened to the community. He received encouragement and support from the members of his Sunday school class. A young manager admitted that he would do some things differently – he worked too many hours, forgot to eat at times, and used alcohol for stress relief. He was honest in sharing that the ways he dealt with the tremendous pressures were not always healthy for him or his family.
We asked which leadership skill was most critical to them in the hours and days after the devastating destruction. Every manager on the panel agreed on the one leadership skill that helped him best serve his suffering city.
When I was attending college, one of my part-time jobs was working at a day care. (Stay with me, I promise this is relevant.) One afternoon while I was working, a little boy fell and hit his face. When I lifted him up, his lip was bleeding and I panicked. I grabbed him and ran through the day care calling for the manager. She calmly set him on a counter and asked to see his lip. Then she told him that it looked like the kind of injury that could be helped by a Popsicle. He stopped crying, took the cold treat, and went back to play. Then the day care manager said something I have never forgotten, “Claudia, they are looking to us to see how serious the situation is. When we stay calm, it helps them be confident that things are under control.”
Even in such critical circumstances, the same leadership skill helped these local government leaders reassure their battered communities. They shared that they always spoke calmly, and with confidence in their staff and their community. Every time they were asked to speak at a press conference, in an interview, in an internal or external meeting, they assured their hurting communities that they would recover.
Did they always “feel” calm? Were they always confident of the future? They admitted there were times they were frustrated, weary and overwhelmed. But they also instinctively knew one key leadership principle would have a positive and healing impact at the point of their city’s greatest need – when leaders express confidence, they instill it in others.
In every instance, the communities represented by these managers pulled together, rebuilt and recovered. Their cities are proof of the principle.
Executive Search Manager
Photo by Mike Mezeul II Photography
Five Questions to Help You Determine the Right Path
No leadership competency is more critical than recruiting, assessing and developing current and future leaders. And while decisions regarding how to fill vacancies impact quality of operational management – they also profoundly affect employee engagement and motivation, organizational culture, and ultimately mission success. Failure to carefully choose who fills a vacancy as well as how the vacancy is filled – can profoundly impact the leader’s credibility. Any time a vacancy occurs, it is not just those who are drawn to the prospect of being promoted into the vacancy who have a stake in the process… everyone who could be affected by the ripples of someone receiving the promotion feel a stake in the outcome – especially those who will work for whoever fills the vacancy!
In an ideal world, you would always have a strong pool of internal candidates to choose from but that is not always the case… and determining whether to simply promote from within or to open up an external recruitment process can be challenging.
Do We Have an Adequate Pool to Promote from Within?
The following questions will assist the leader in evaluating whether to promote from within, or to conduct an external recruitment.
- Do you have internal prospects with the essential technical qualifications to do the job? Too many organizations confuse essential and ideal, and as a result miss out on promoting exceptional candidates.
- Do those internal prospects who meet the essential technical qualifications have a track record of success in their current position? Some people make success happen and others are along for the ride. Know the difference.
- Have those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications and have a track record of success, completed leadership development programs to prepare themselves for promotion? Look for employees who are investing in their own growth even if internal development programs are not offered.
- Do those internal prospects, who meet the technical qualifications, have a track record of success and have they completed preparatory leadership programs while maintaining a reputation for a positive attitude and great teamwork among their current employees, peers and supervisors? Unpleasant people who are promoted become unpleasant bosses.
- Are those internal prospects who meet all of the above standards philosophically aligned with the organization’s stated mission, vision and values and do they have a reputation for walking the talk? Nothing damages credibility more than “do as I say not as I do” leadership.
These questions form a bit of a funnel, moving from the easiest criteria for evaluation, to the more challenging (but still critical). Proceeding through each of the five questions, it is likely the number of prospects still considered viable diminishes. In an ideal situation, you can answer all five questions affirmatively for at least three prospects. If so, an internal recruitment process only should be adequate. However, still opening up the process organization wide ensures everyone has a fair opportunity to compete, and that someone who has great potential has not gone unnoticed.
Remember, these questions are not designed to determine who to hire… they merely help determine whether adequate options exist internally to avoid an external recruitment process. Hiring decisions are almost always much better if options are available to contrast and compare to.
If you cannot answer in the affirmative on all five questions for at least three internal prospects, it is likely that an external recruitment process is appropriate.
Published July 2015 in Public Sector Digest
Have you ever caught yourself watching a sporting match where you end up yelling at the TV screen thinking the referee might hear you? You become so invested in the game that you feel that berating them through the screen will have some effect on the way the ref’s subsequent decisions will be made. I can hear some of you groan at another sports analogy about to be applied here, but stay with me on this one because it may change the way you think about trust and leadership in public service, AND, the way you view the referee at your child’s next little league game. But, to begin with, what actually gives me license to talk about both officiating sports and public service? Two topics that, quite frankly, have probably never even come close to entering your mind at the same time! I started refereeing basketball at the ripe young age of thirteen and had no idea the impact it would make on my life. I went on to referee state championships in Australia and College Basketball in Canada. My educational background and professional life also happen to be in governance. As a person who has always aspired to a career in public service, I could not help but see the extraordinary links between these two seemingly juxtaposed topics.
As referees, we are responsible for making split second decisions, often under extreme pressure. These decisions that we make affect the way people feel, think and react to any given situation. Does this experience sound familiar to you? Referees actually display some of the most extraordinary qualities of leadership. Now, I am a person who completely understands the begrudging feelings many have towards referees. I apologize if you are still cradling the scars from THAT decision that came from THAT referee back in junior high that lost you the championship match! BUT, and as obscure as it may seem, public service and refereeing actually share some very similar experiences, and recognizing this can actually teach us some very important lessons about leadership. So, hear me out.
Referees, like those in public service, are facilitators, they are the enablers, the diplomats, the judiciary, the rule enforcers, the teachers and the carers. They do this all for the love of the game and for a sense of community. It’s a calling. It’s a dedication to a certain level of responsibility. These aspects of a referee’s job ring remarkably similar to the roles and responsibilities involved in public service. In the stadium, we are the police, we are the firefighters, we are the courts and councilmen, and sometimes, we have to be animal control as well. Yes, you heard me right… animal control.
One of the complaints often heard by local referees is when a player or coach did not like a decision, and as a result says “I can’t believe I am paying YOU for this!” As with game fees that pay a referee’s wage, many people in society are also sensitive to where their tax money goes and what they see these taxes outwardly being spent on. In all honesty, the greatest thing that both positions have to develop is trust. I did not even come close to realizing this early on in my refereeing career, but this is what makes us successful at our jobs. The weight that trust carries is actually astounding. Creating trust and building relationships and rapport with those around us through clear communication and demonstrating objective and transparent decision-making, makes all the difference in the world. This goes for referees and it most definitely goes for those in public service. Surely, I get an “Amen” on that one. The bottom line is, the greater people’s trust is for the public servant and the referee alike, the criticisms and public outcry will not come nearly as swift and harsh if that level of trust and faith in a well demonstrated ability to lead, is there. On the court, if I have built and established a level of trust with players and coaches (and sometimes parents), a bad call on my part is far more easily forgiven, and they perhaps will not call for my head on the way out the door or in the parking lot.
As a basketball player (albeit not a very good one), I know I have caught myself walking into an arena looking at which referee would be on my game. I would find myself either mentally high-fiving myself knowing that this person was capable and I trusted them to be the arbiter, or, I would audibly groan knowing that I was up for a tough match, as I was just as likely to be going to battle with the referee as much as the opposition. Those who have played competitive sports know this feeling. Honestly, the same thing goes when I walk into a stadium and see who I will be refereeing with on the next match. Like walking into the workplace and trusting who you have to work with, knowing who I would be walking onto the court with, made all the difference. What it came down to was, did I trust that person’s judgement? Knowing them, their background, how long they have been doing this for, their level of integrity, the calls they have made (good and bad), do I trust them not to mess up and make us all look like fools? One of the greatest compliments that I received refereeing came one day when the president of my association came to me after a tough match and said, “I would follow you into battle”. What this meant was that, on the court, he trusted my judgement, he trusted my skills, and my ability to communicate and relate to people and build those vital relationships. This absolutely also rings true in the workplace.
On the court as in public service, consistency is key. Consistency in your calls takes away the element of surprise. Consistency builds credibility. In the arena, whether it is the basketball arena or the public service arena, when there is mistrust for those in charge, chaos can ensue. Think of what mistrust does in your own mind, then expand that thought to an entire organization. It can be destructive. Successful leadership takes an extraordinary amount of emotional intelligence. Authority without trust DOES. NOT. WORK. For me, success came when I learned to be deliberate and thoughtful about each decision I made. What that does in terms of creating a level of respect from those around you is quite amazing. Referees, as many working in public service, are on the front lines. We can go through a game and can be called every name under the sun with abuse being hurled from every direction for doing things and making decisions we were trained to do and make. Overwhelmingly my experience on the court drastically changed when I began to realize how important elements like consistency, clear communication, transparency in decision making and a demonstrated willingness to communicate calmly, changed how people perceived me and approached me. All of a sudden reactions to my calls from coaches and players went from “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU MADE THAT CALL, REF! ARE YOU BLIND???” to “Ref, can you please explain that one for me?” at which point a short explanation was all coaches and players needed to be satisfied that the right decision had been made.
Let’s face it, sports has a funny way of bringing out extreme emotion in people and can make us act in ways we would not even dream of otherwise. The fact that in that moment, I had stopped and listened to their question and gave them that one moment to express their concerns, rather than just fobbing them off as just another unjustifiably frustrated player, changed the way they reacted to me entirely. Suddenly there was a level of trust and respect present on the court that made the whole experience that much more profound. Amazing how these same principles can be applied to so many aspects of public service, whether it is in customer service, the folks on the front lines or those in leadership positions. There is a saying in the referee world “You are only as good as your last call”. Just as Warren Buffett said “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you will do things differently.” I’ll let you think about that one for a moment…
Being a referee and working in the arena of public service are both positions that are highly public, they are highly open for criticism and many consider them a necessary evil to keep their world turning. But, we know we are so much more than that. But perhaps another lesson learned… be nice to the referee! They are doing their best in a very tough situation!!
Member Collaboration Manager
Last week, I traveled from Colorado to Missouri along I-70. While passing a number of well-run city manager’s cities along my route, and in between watching the weather radar through the majority of Kansas, I noticed an interesting billboard.
The sign advertised a store named Yarns, and the message read, “2nd Friendliest Yarn Store in the Universe.”
Maybe the advertising is genius; after all, I am still pondering it a week later. But, I was struck by two words. First of all, comparing your business to the entire universe is lofty. But, second and most importantly, I was surprised with satisfaction and boastfulness of being second – and not just second best, the second friendliest.
Perhaps it was the proximity to my graduate alma mater, but the billboard made me think of the book, Small Giants, where Bo Burlingham explores notable companies that have chosen to remain small. Mr. Burlingham states, “It’s an axiom of business that great companies grow their revenues and profits year after year. Yet quietly, under the radar, a small number of companies have rejected the pressure of endless growth to focus on more satisfying business goals. Goals like being great at what they do…creating a great place to work…providing great customer service…making great contributions to their communities…and finding great ways to lead their lives.”
In the book, Mr. Burlingham analyzes the leadership characteristics, rationale, and turning points behind each of the fourteen “small giant” companies that he studied. Generally speaking, the leaders of each company had a choice – time and time again – and chose to stay small and create a really good product and organization that focused on the values of the company.
Your community may not be an All-American City, the largest in the metro, the highest property value, or whatever value you may place on being the biggest; however, you have a choice – time and time again – as the leader of the community to focus on the quality of your organization and your community. You have the ability to build something really great, no matter of size or prestige of your community. You can do good each day and impact the lives of your employees and your citizens.
Being a small giant allows you to define success and work to obtain it – perhaps, even by being the second friendliest yarn store in the universe.
Executive Search Manager
Recently, I sat for an hour with a sales representative from Oracle. (One of those chance, accidental encounters). He knows his stuff. He knew things, many things — things that I did not know. We talked about the Cloud, and “adding value,” and the challenges brought by new, unexpected competitors… We talked about a lot. I think he appreciated insights I shared from recent books I’ve read, especially Team of Teams. But, I know I appreciated his tutorial. I learned things — things I did not know. Words and concepts that I’ve read about became understandable. He “explained” things in the course of our conversation, and I was grateful.
Which got me to thinking…
Who do you learn from?
This is not an unimportant question.
Narrow expertise is indeed valuable. But, ever-increasing broader knowledge is also valuable; maybe even more valuable.
Assuming we have acquired some level of basic knowledge, what happens next is that we tend to learn from people:
- in our field
- who think like we think
In other words, what we learn may provide a slight, continual, ongoing expansion of our capabilities and knowledge (this is good), but a failure to expand our horizons; a failure to learn from some one or some ones “outside” our normal viewpoints.
And, to fail to take advantage of that wider world of knowledge is not only a mistake, it could be increasingly a threat to your own future and that of your company. One of my favorite quotes is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan:
The library (i.e., your personal library) should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real- estate market allow you to put there.
It reminds me that our knowledge is narrow, and the available information out there is so very vast.
And, the more we learn — the more we read and learn from “outside” our normal interests — the better equipped we will be to make sense of this diverse, collaborating, so.many.things.meshing.together world.
So… a simple suggestion. Read something, pretty regularly, from an author you normally would not read, in a field you know little about. And find more “accidental, chance encounters” with people who could teach you about something you know little about. It might be a surprisingly valuable way to spend some of your time.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Immediately before guests come to visit, our household is thrown into a hurricane of cleaning, picking up toys, and folding the clean laundry that has usually been in the hallway for over a week (or at least hiding it). I completely stress about making the house look presentable. My hospitality skills focus on what others think of me and barely include ensuring that there are clean sheets on the guest bed and clean towels in the bathroom that guests are forced to share with my children.
This past weekend, my husband’s family had a reunion and we were overnight guests at his cousin’s home. Everything about the entire weekend was about making the guests feel comfortable, which completely changed my view on hospitality.
When we arrived, we were each given a bag with a towel for the pool, water bottle, flashlight, lip balm, and snacks for the kids – everything that we needed for the weekend and, of course, did not bring. Our guest room was extremely relaxing with an amazing view of the mountains. The room had the Wi-Fi password posted on the wall, water, a coffee maker, milk, “busy” toys for the kids, iPhone chargers, soaps, shampoo, etc. I felt completely relaxed and that I did not need to ask the hosts for every little thing that I needed to complete our stay. The hosts spent time thinking about my family and the event and what we may need to make our stay positive and comforting.
City halls are generally a place for all of the citizens of a community. City halls should be a place of openness and pride for a community – not only a place to house bureaucrats. But, how open is city hall? Do we focus on what others think of city hall? Does it reflect the community? Do your citizens feel welcomed there?
What can you do to be good hosts to your community? Ask yourself what your guests need for a positive and comforting experience at city hall.
Perhaps it is extending hours to facilities for citizens working outside of your community. Perhaps it is nighttime or weekend recreation activities for dual-income families. Perhaps it is enhanced social media for your younger generations. Perhaps it is expanding your technology to reach the opinions and thoughts of citizens who are unable to attend an evening town hall meeting. Perhaps it is offering translation services that reflect the languages spoken in your community. Perhaps it is easy access to your billing and payment system. Perhaps it is extra time with code officers or planners before a small issue wastes money for a homeowner. Perhaps it is a warm bench and a glass of hot coffee in the winter.
Redefine city hall’s hospitality role in your community. How can we all be better hosts?
Executive Search Manager