This week, we said good-bye to our friends at Parks and Recreation as the series finale aired. Parks and Recreation is a comedy television series centered in the parks department in Pawnee, Indiana. The series stars the amazingly talented Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a manager in the Parks and Recreation department, who tackles every local government task with an unending amount of enthusiasm and optimism towards public service and each and every governmental task. She also has a dream of becoming president of the United States – a potentially far-fetched dream, but I believe one that many of those who embark on a career in public service share with her.
After realizing local government was the subject for a prime time sitcom, I was immediately drawn to the show during the first season. The episodes tracked major local government issues such as government shut-downs and recalls, as well as reoccurring processes such as budgeting, elections, and town hall meetings. The comedy also showed the passion that can be demonstrated by citizens on local issues.
While I was an avid fan for the majority of its seven year run, the show recently lost its spot in my DVR. I actually read about the series finale on NPR’s website and a quote from the show caught my attention:
There’s a scene in a very early episode in which city planner Mark Brendanawicz — who later left the show — explains with some misery that his latest accomplishment is getting a speed bump lowered 2 inches. Leslie, as always, had the bright side covered: “You fixed a problem,” she says. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
And, that is exactly what the characters in the show did every week…they fixed a problem – though, often, it was an outlandish problem that was fixed in a very funny way.
While I enjoyed the humor of the show, local governments across the world fix problems every day. That is what we are supposed to do. Every day, local government officials from the laborers to department directors, and everyone in between, fix problems to make life better for the citizens.
As I watched the series finale this evening (after Googling the “Cliffs Notes” version for the past several seasons), Leslie Knope’s character sums up public service in a toast to her former Parks and Recreation teammates, “When we worked here, together, we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public services is all about – small incremental change every day.” In Jim Collins work in Good to Great, Leslie’s quote represents the concept of “Turning the Flywheel.” Small, consistent steps taken towards improvement will yield dramatic improvements over time (Tweet This).
When you are frustrated by the fighting, clawing, or the tiny tasks – read this quote to remind you that your daily changes will make people’s lives better. Making a difference is all that all of us public servants want (besides being president).
PS – While planning your community’s Easter Egg Hunt, watch this clip from Parks and Recreation. You can thank me later.
Executive Search Manager
During Sunday’s Austin Marathon, a participant dramatically crawled to the finish line to complete her race.
Hyvon Ngetich, a 29 year-old runner from Kenya, led the women’s elite race for the majority of the 26.2 mile race. However, with the finish line in sight, she collapsed. Her body literally hit a wall and she was unable to continue to run.
She was offered a wheelchair and declined. She was offered medical assistance and declined. In a marathon, if you are assisted at all, then you would be disqualified. Instead, Ms. Ngetich crawled on her hands and knees to the finish line.
As you can see from this video, she shows fierce determination with every movement of her body as she slowly gets closer and closer to the finish. With an outstanding amount of effort, Ms. Ngetich finished third in the women’s marathon – a focused and determined runner.
It is during the trying times in our communities that leaders also show this unending focus and determination. An issue, such as a major development project or the annual budget approval, can bring unexpected obstacles at the end of a long review process. It does not matter how many times a leader has checked in with the community or the elected officials along the way; an obstacle at the end can completely derail the entire process.
But, when an obstacle presents itself, do not give up on crossing the finish line (Tweet This). You just may need to adjust your method of reaching the finish line. Perhaps, you need to explore some public engagement opportunities to reach to the crux of the conflict. Perhaps, you need to ask that the issue be sent to an advisory committee for further review by different perspectives from the community. Or, perhaps, the issue should be tabled until a different time in the life of the city.
For whatever issue is presenting an obstacle in your community, focus your attention on the finish line and how you can get there. Then, with unending determination, crawl your community to the finish. As a leader, it does not matter that you finished first or third, it matters that you finished – with focus and determination.
Executive Search Manager