Last month, the city management profession lost a great leader with the unexpected passing of David Watkins, city manager of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
When we began our graduate studies at the University of Kansas, we were provided the opportunity to meet great local government leaders, one of which was David Watkins. At the time, he was the city manager of Lenexa, Kansas, and each year he hired an intern from the graduate class to work in his office. During our year on-campus, he hired Maria Ojeda.
In the fall of our first year, our entire class attended the ICMA Conference. From afar, David walked with such confidence through the conference halls, greeting everyone along his path. To aspiring city managers, he seemed entirely unapproachable. We later learned that David was the complete antithesis; he was approachable, accessible and never took himself too seriously. He naturally drew people to him with his laugh and great sense of humor. David took time to meet students and in the classic ICMA tradition, made time to socialize and share stories of the profession.
From that point on, I believe everyone in our class felt comfortable with David. He demonstrated to us that he was “just a regular guy,” not a “city manager giant,” and built a foundation to begin his mentorship with us.
“David was a great supporter of the University of Kansas Internship Program. As an intern in Lenexa, David always made an effort to welcome my participation at different levels of the organization. Most importantly, he never micromanaged and allowed me the opportunity to learn. As an impressionable newbie to local government, I appreciated his ability to talk government, family and sports; he valued connecting with people and that made him a great leader,” Maria Ojeda.
Throughout his career, David shared his dedication to the local government profession and his commitment to developing future generations of leaders. He spent his time with us to not only serve as a mentor for decades of local government students; but, he also spent his time to get to know others. He was a true role model to so many.
Mentoring can be time consuming and complex such as a long-term formal mentoring partnership or an internship program at your city. It can also be simple like meeting with new entries into the profession over lunch or inviting local students to your community for a tour of city services. Consider honoring David’s career by taking the time to focus on mentorship and improve the future of our profession.
Winston Churchill has been credited with saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” David gave a great amount of himself to the future of city management.
Executive Search Manager, Katie Corder
& Assistant to the City Manager of Pleasanton, CA, Maria Ojeda
Do you need to have all the boxes checked in order to promote?
The answer is easy, no, you do not.
Last month, I wrapped up my Master of Public Administration degree and in my studies I approached the topic of diversity in local government, and more specifically, how to inspire women to take on leadership positions in government. What I found out was interesting…
You may already be aware that women comprise over half of the United States population, but what you may not know is that, according to ICMA, “by 2006, women earned 59 percent of MPA degrees while the proportion of men had declined to just more than 40 percent.” So if women make up more than half of the population and are earning more MPA degrees than men, why isn’t local, or federal government for that matter, representative of this part of the population in leadership positions?
After researching this topic to death, and spending multiple all-nighters chugging coffee, I finally found a reason that made sense. It’s not that women don’t want to take on leadership positions in government, it’s that they believe that before they can promote they must have all the boxes checked. This differs with men, who tend to apply for a position when they have a little over half of the boxes checked. I know, it may sound silly, but I can definitely relate to this. I have stopped myself from applying for many jobs because, after reading the job description, I thought that I didn’t meet all of the standards that the position was asking for. But the thing is, you don’t have to meet all of the standards, you just have to be willing to learn.
I have read this over and over, and believe wholeheartedly, that government leadership should be representative of the people with whom they serve. It is because of this that I think that government’s should be taking the necessary steps to achieve diversity and to encourage the growth and development of ALL staff members. Now, whether you achieve this through the establishment of a mentor program (inside or outside your organization), coaching, or by encouraging your employees to pursue further education or training, is up to you, but sometimes it helps to give your employees a little push and remind them that you are an advocate for their career development. Who knows, that little push could lead your employees on the path to the next presidency.
What are your thoughts?
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
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
Being your own manager is only half the battle.
In the old days, as you learned a trade (a skill), you would work under a journeyman (it was pretty much always a journeyMAN), until you became a journeyman yourself. (And then, if you made it to the pinnacle, you would become a master).
Today, so much of our work is more “internal,” (i.e., “information worker” work), and more and more people, even if they work within an organization, have to be ever-more self-directed. (See Zappos’ move to Holacracy: No more managers at Zappos).
Recently the always helpful Laura Vanderkam wrote How To Be Your Own Manager: Developing An External, Strategic Perspective On Your Career, Just Like A Talent Manager Would, Keeps You Moving Forward. She wrote:
…as people move in and out of roles more frequently, we’re starting to have as many jobs on our résumés as an actor might have gigs. If you want to be a rock star at what you do, here’s how to be your own manager.
She has five recommendations. They are all good, but I especially like #s 4 & 5:
#4 – Coach Your Performance
#5 – Promote Yourself
But… here’s what I think. After you manage yourself, you now have the next, maybe tougher assignment. And that is to “Supervise Yourself.”
Remember the distinction:
a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.
Person in the first-line management who monitors and regulates employees in their performance of assigned or delegated tasks.
Maybe, consider it this way: a manager makes sure the company is going in the right direction. The supervisors are making sure that the individuals are getting the job done; the right work done, and done well.
So, after you manage yourself, you then have to make sure the work is getting done—you have to supervise yourself, to get the work done.
And, if you have trouble here, then you have to up the game even further, and define your role as that of being a “taskmaster” to yourself.
a person who supervises rigorously the work of others.
I’ve got a hunch that this task is as important, and sometimes maybe more difficult, than it seems.
In other words, once the “right” work is planned out, then making sure the work is actually done is pretty much the whole ballgame.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
My youngest child has fairly significant food allergies. Of course, we discovered it by feeding him peanut butter when he was fourteen months old and ended up in the emergency room. This reaction started our journey into allergy testing and food planning. It also began my transition to the “helicopter mom” who circled over him to ensure that he did not put “forbidden” food into his mouth. I felt completely and solely responsible for controlling his body’s reaction to allergens.
As part of our learning process, I began following a number of blogs and various organizations, including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In a recent food allergy awareness campaign, I was struck by a marketing piece – “It takes a village to keep kids with food allergies safe and healthy.”
When I read this statement, I realized that I can and do depend on “my village” to keep my son safe and healthy. His teachers, our family, and our friends can be taught what words to look for on food labels, which restaurants and brands are “trusted,” and how to identify and appropriately respond to a potential reaction. His siblings are very outspoken in asking if treats at parties have various food ingredients and they remind him what he can/cannot eat. And, slowly, I have to turn the control over to my son. He needs to learn to take care of himself and identify his own village.
Leaders often feel completely and solely responsible for controlling their organization. Bearing this level of responsibility can be exhausting and lonely. Great leaders search out ways to alleviate that responsibility – one way is to identify your village, both inside and outside your organization.
Identify current and future leaders from within your organization to share the responsibility of leadership and not just the administrative and operational management and oversight. Rather, find leaders who can think strategically, understand where your organization is going, and help you identify ways to stay on course—leaders who will tell you when the organization is veering off course.
Outside of your organization, identify your village of leaders for camaraderie. Find trusted advisors and friends who can easily share the successes and difficulties they have experienced to apply to your organization. Find leaders who intellectually understand your business and also have compassion and understanding for the politics that are often involved. Find leaders who can challenge you.
Identify your village and share the responsibility of leadership.
Executive Search Manager
It’s a simple progression to grasp (not to implement and put into practice; but, to grasp).
A person – a single person – develops skills. And then commits to using those skills effectively, while always adding to his/her skill set. And then, that person becomes a member of a team. Maybe he joins the team on his own; maybe she is recruited into or assigned to the team. Now, the team is made up of competent, skill-rich, always skills-enhancing individuals.
But the team is greater than any one individual on the team.
Our old organizational structures tend to make us create teams dictated to from above. And, we create competitive team culture – “my team is better than your team.” Thus, we finally get individuals to collaborate, but teams keep ideas and breakthroughs from each other. Collaboration stops at the single team level.
This is a formula for success, for sure – in yesterday’s environment. But a formula for failure in today’s environment, and certainly in tomorrow’s environment. VUCA is not new anymore; it is simply the ever present reality.
- V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and changes catalysts.
- U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
- C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
- A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.
What I have written is my first attempt to describe the premise of General McChrystal’s new book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Here’s one quote from the book, that states the premise clearly:
We looked at the behaviors of our smallest units and found ways to extend them to an organization of thousands, spread across three continents. We became what we called “a team of teams”: a large command that captured at scale the traits of agility normally limited to small teams.
In other words, every “small team” is part of a much larger TEAM of teams. Thus, openness, transparency, agility – and no top-down micro-controlling – is the modern organizational necessity.
I am just beginning this book, and my first impression is that it makes sense. The way forward will have to be with talented individuals, working on teams with other talented individuals, with those teams teaming up with other/all other teams in the organization.
I will present my synopsis of this book at the August 7 First Friday Book Synopsis. I think this book is absolutely worth a careful look…
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis