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
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