Leading & Managing Yourself

What Chipping Paint Taught Me About Finding Meaning at Work

An illustration on how powerful it is for people to have a clear understanding of their role and why it matters in the grand scheme of things.

Career Compass No. 56: The Paradoxes of Leadership

In this issue of Career Compass, Dr. Frank Benest explores how to enhance your daily leadership practice.

Lessons in Local Government Leadership: Taking Risks to Learn and Grow

Lessons from a mid-career manager on figuring out what is truly an “oops” and what is an interesting learning experience.

The Confidence Gap. Is it holding Women Back?

Advice for women leaders: don't take yourself out of the running for the top job because you think you're not ready.

Saying No

By Jeff Davidson Are you taking on too much and enjoying it less? Here is a look at this issue in a Q&A format, including some solutions: Q: Saying no at work can be risky. How can one effectively say no? A: Practice saying no with grace and ease as often as possible. Often, the larger your organization is, the more impediments you'll face in managing your calendar. Even in an entrepreneurial setting, there are many activities that we volunteer for that end up hindering us from doing the things we've identified as important. Sometimes, it's important to drop things without remorse. It might be useful to look at your to-do list and cross out an item or two as you tell yourself, "It would be nice, but I've only got so much time in a day, in a week, and in my career. I have to stay focused on what's important." It's ego boosting to have the image of being someone who can take on every challenge. In the end, though, it can be exhausting. If you haven't occasionally, respectfully said no or crossed out an item from your calendar without remorse, now might be the time to develop the habit.   Q: What if we can't say no? A: As often as possible, try to delegate at the office, or even at home. When you can hand off something to another person and stick with the few tasks that you need to work on because of your expertise, background, or skill, you open up a world of possibilities. When practical, give a task to someone else, hire someone, retain someone, or find another way to get the task done. Reexamine every activity for its potential to be delegated to someone else.   Q: What if we're simply handling too much? A: At all times, keep your frustration level low. This is an era in which many professionals in a position of responsibility are managing too much. Most people are in the same boat. Organizations have gone through years of slimming down and asking more of their workers, often with fewer resources of staff, equipment, or budget to provide to them. Approach your situation with grace and ease. You've made it this far and done a reasonably good job; you'll go even further. Maintain control of your spaces. Keep your work area clear so that you can focus on the task at hand. A single file folder or screen in front of you makes it easier for you to concentrate on a given task. It's important to work on one thing at a time. You might have six priorities, all pulling at you at the same time. What's the fastest way to get through those six? Believe it or not, taking each item one at a time is the most effective solution. Determine what item is the most important, work on it as far as you can—or complete it—and then go to the next item and proceed in the same manner.   Q: So not all tasks are created equal? A: Many people mislead themselves by treating all of their assignments as if they have the same importance; therefore, they jump from one project to another, dabbling a little with each one as they proceed. They're not working this way because they have a strategic plan or because they&'ve gone as far as they can on each individual item; rather, they feel that gradually making progress in each of the six areas means they're effectively juggling projects. Yet, study after study shows that the fastest way to finish six projects is to work on one at a time, taking each one to completion before moving to the next.   Q: Are there any other techniques when faced with too much to do? A: A useful technique is to make choices through silent self-acknowledgment about what is really vital to accomplish and how you want to proceed. We all talk to ourselves in our heads all day long, and studies have shown that we unfortunately tend to tell ourselves negative things--about being late, about botching a project, or about what others will think. We tend not to tell ourselves we're wonderful or even that we're good and that we did the best we could under the circumstances. By nature, we tend not to give ourselves positive messages. Psychologists have found that more than 80 percent of the self-talk in which we all engage is negative. Replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk enables you to change how you react to the challenges you face. Also, you can maintain a balance between long- and short-term tasks and respect the objectives of others, especially if you work as part of a team. By making choices about what you want to accomplish, you develop a mindset that allows you to tackle challenges more effectively.   Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is principal, Breathing Space Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina (www.BreathingSpace.com or Jeff@Breathingspace.com). An author and presenter on work-life balance, he holds the world's only registered trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "The Work-Life Balance Expert."  

5 Ways to Prepare for Your Next Presentation

Regardless of the level at which you manage, your schedule includes challenges and opportunities to speak in public.

Five Critical Competencies for Public Administration Leadership

The work of city and county managers is complex and dynamic: complex due to the many challenges facing local governments across the country and dynamic due to the dizzying changes impacting communities and their citizens. These challenges and changes come at a time when public confidence in elected officials remains historically low (Pew Research Center, 2015). Given these various factors, city and county managers have both an opportunity and obligation to build trust with their various constituents through the practice of effective leadership. Based on our work in the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University, we have come to define leadership as a process of social influence that is shaped by verbal and nonverbal communication and co-constructed between leaders and followers (Ruben & Gigliotti, 2016). This definition, along with many other similar definitions, highlights the importance of both the leader and the follower in shaping the process of leadership. Put another way, the follower is what makes leadership possible, and leaders must regularly assess the impact of their behaviors on the various followers one represents. As we consider the complex and dynamic context facing city and county managers, Brent Ruben’s (2012) leadership competencies scorecard provides a useful overview of the knowledge and skills required for effective leadership during this important moment. This scorecard is the result of Ruben’s synthesis of the extensive professional literature on leadership, leading him to develop a diverse portfolio of requisite competencies based on five broad areas: 1) Analytic competencies 2) Personal competencies 3) Communication competencies 4) Organizational competencies 5) Positional competencies. Each of these broad competency areas encompasses a number of themes, as illustrated in the figure below. As Ruben describes these broad and expansive competencies, he suggests that the many challenges that leaders face require a diverse portfolio of knowledge and skills, “and the ability to analyze situations and employ those competencies as needed” (p. 2). Leadership Competency Scorecard Themes (Ruben, 2012) Leadership involves a combination of: (1) “vertical” competencies––the knowledge and skills needed to lead that are specific to one’s role as a local government official; and (2) “horizontal” competencies––the generic knowledge and skills that cut across these competency areas. For example, your role as a public administrator likely requires an intimate understanding of local issues, but your success as a leader also very much hinges on your analytical problem-solving skills, your organizational abilities, your enthusiasm for public service, and your effectiveness in communicating with the diverse constituents in your community. As you think about your own leadership effectiveness, take time to review the various competency areas in the scorecard, and consider which of these areas you are most and least proficient. References Pew Research Center (2015). Public trust in government: 1958-2015. Retrieved February 6, 2017 from http://www.people-press.org/2015/11/23/public-trust-in-government-1958-2015/ Ruben, B. D. (2012). What leaders need to know and do: A leadership competencies scorecard. (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers. Ruben, B. D. & Gigliotti, R. A. (2016). Leadership as social influence: An expanded view of leadership communication theory and practice. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 23(4), 467-479.  

Managing Yourself in Local Government E-Book

The Leadership in Local Government eBook Series is a three-part series that focuses on helping communities achieve organizational excellence through leadership.

Leading & Managing Others

The Right Retreat Makes All the Difference

A Guide to the Art of Planning a Retreat That Is Something Memorable

The Changing Workplace

Insights on Managing Workforce Challenges

The Art of Communicating Expectations to Employees

So you've hired a new assistant manager. Now what? Setting expectations and fully informing your new hire about what is expected of him or her would be a good start. Remember, you cannot rightly and fairly hold employees accountable if you do not make your expectations known from the beginning. But how can these expectations be effectively communicated? And how can you set rules without dominating the work process? As it turns out, these expectations can be communicated through several channels, and we've got a few tips from our publication Human Resource Management in Local Government: An Essential Guide. The Art of Communicating Expectations to Employees 1. Code of Ethics Ethics codes help to communicate organizational norms and expectations for people who work both inside and outside government. Codes reflect your organization's collective consciousness and specify what is good or bad and right or wrong in an organization's behavior. Codes can provide a framework for analyzing decision alternatives, encourage high standards of behavior, offer a basis for evaluating performance, strengthen organizational identity and commitment, and increase public confidence. 2. Personnel Policy Manual Employers should provide all employees with a handbook or manual that specifies in writing all personnel policies and rules. The handbook establishes a reciprocal set of responsibilities for employer and employee. It tells employees what is expected of them in the workplace and what they can expect from their employer in terms of fair treatment. The policies contained in the employee manual should be repeatedly communicated to employees through various verbal and written channels, such as the orientation meetings for new hires and periodic memos to all staff. Contents of a manual can include: At-will employment disclaimer and acknowledgement form. Benefits attached to employment (pension, health insurance, life insurance). Employee records, access, confidentiality/privacy/application of open-records laws. Code of ethics. Work rules. 3. Job Interviews Some policies in the employee manual and ethics code may need to be communicated to a job candidate in his or her interview. These would include, for instance, provisions that require an employee to live within the city. Most candidates are informed of an agency's equal employment opportunity policy during the initial interviews. And a candidate who may have a spouse should be informed of the agency's nepotism policies. 4. Orientation A new employee's job orientation session should thoroughly familiarize the new hire with the company's workplace policies and ethics rules. Both the human resource director and supervisors under whom the employee will be working should be involved in the orientation; the presence of the supervisors shows a new employee that these managers are ready to answer any questions and help him or her succeed.  5. Supervisors Supervisors play an important role in communicating expectations to employees and represent the authority of their parent organizations and are charged with maintaining a productive and safe work environment. They therefore need to direct and control the conduct of employees through verbal guidance, written comments, rewards, and discipline.    

12 of the Best Job Interview Questions to Ask Local Government Candidates

To help give you some ideas for the next time you're screening candidates, here is a checklist of 12 of the best interview questions.

Making the Impossible Possible

By Andrew Wittman The conference room is nearly full. As you enter, you feel, more than hear, the rumble of staff members' voices, carrying rife speculations into the atmosphere as to why the manager has called the meeting. A hushed anticipation blankets the room. And then it happens: You ask the staff to accomplish what they think is impossible. Before you know it, someone blurts out, "It can't be done." Others in the meeting agree with that statement. And still others launch into detailed explanations of all the reasons why it can't be done, reasons why it shouldn't be done, and why it shouldn't even be attempted. There is a cacophony of problem-oriented chatter. The train has left the station. The meeting descends into a chorus of "That won't work" and "That's impossible." Perhaps being in the manager's seat, you have seen this movie before. But wait, this sequel has a different ending, a new twist. You clear your throat and single-handedly bring the problem train to a halt. You instantly stop the insanity, responding the same way to the same external factors; however, you request and you expect a different outcome. You reset the entire tone and tenure of the meeting. Suddenly, solution-oriented ideas begin to pour forth from the lips of staff members, who moments before were 100 percent sure the problem was impossible to solve. New energy floods the room. Excitement. Creativity. Possibility. Ownership. Engagement. You are a miracle worker! How did you pull it off? You deployed the two-minute rule. Wired for Solutions Brain science tells us that the human brain is the original search engine. It must answer a question. The answer doesn't have to come out of your mouth, but the brain must search for an answer whenever it is presented with a question. As an experiment to see this fact in action, no matter what is asked next, do not recall the answer to the question. "What's two plus two?" (Stop answering the question.) Who is the president of the United States? (Quit it. Don't think of the answer.) "In which direction does the sun rise?" "In which direction does the sun set?" Couple this need to answer with the fact that in the past decade or so, by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—brain imaging and brain mapping—we have learned that the brain takes in approximately 11 million bits of information per second. Every single second, right now, you are taking in 11 million bits of information from what you see, what you feel, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste. How much goes to your conscious mind for action? The number varies between 126 bits per second all the way down to 40 bits per second. Let's use the higher number for simplicity. Your brain takes in 11 million bits of information per second and filters all the information in real time, sending only 126 bits of information to your conscious mind for action. Research shows that our thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes are the filter our brains use to choose the 126 bits per second. We literally sift and discard 99.9 percent of all that information and focus only on that information that proves and reinforces our thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. The neuroscience reveals to us that the things we believe direct our actions and become self-fulfilling prophesies. If you say you can't find a solution, you're probably going to be right. It's called confirmation bias. If you say, "I don't know or it's impossible," your brain will literally stop the search and halt sifting through those 11 million bits of information per second. You stop your brain from finding a solution to whatever problem you are facing. Take Two Minutes to Suspend Disbelief Remember, the human brain must answer a question. Could you suspend your disbelief? Have you ever watched a movie that you liked? Congratulations, you have suspended your disbelief. You know movies aren't real, even the ones "based on a true story" have been enhanced by filmmakers. To enjoy a movie, you must override your inner voice telling you that what you see in the movie is impossible. Enter the 2-minute rule. It goes like this: Every time you hear your inner voice say things like, "That's impossible, that won't work, that's not right, there's no way, that's crazy talk," you give yourself two minutes of cognitive space by suspending your disbelief. Anytime and every time you encounter information that causes your inner voice to shut down your brain's search engine feature, implement the two-minute rule and ask yourself, "I know that's impossible, but if it was possible, how would I do it? This is exactly how you turned the meeting around. You suspended your disbelief and you deployed the rule. You cleared your throat. You said, "I know what I am proposing is impossible, but if it was possible, how do you all think we would do it?" You turned on everyone's search engine, and you now have a room full of people seeking ways to do the impossible, instead of simply declaring it to be impossible. Article Research Sources https://www.britannica.com/topic/information-theory/Physiology Brown, Rebel (2013). The Influential Leader: Using the Technology of Your Mind to Create Excellence in Yourself and Your Teams. eBook by Rebel Brown. Wilson, Timothy D. (2002). Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Pillay, Srinivasan S. (2011). Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.   Andrew Wittman, Ph.D., is managing partner, Mental Toughness Training Center, Greer, South Carolina. He is a former police officer and federal agent who is author of the book Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You (http://www.getwarriortough.com; Twitter, @WarriorToughPhD).  

Inspire Aligned Behavior

By S. Chris Edmonds Project teams are often the catalyst for change in organizations. They design new systems and new approaches that will require people across their organization to operate differently, to use different systems or tools, and to embrace the new tools nimbly, effectively, and—hopefully—without drama. You probably have experienced how much easier it is to design a new system than to get people to embrace it. People resist change. They're used to doing it "the old way" and "their way." Even when they're educated about the benefits of the new system and trained to use it, gaining traction with the new approach takes time, energy, reinforcement, and praising of progress, ad nauseam. Project managers have always faced such challenges as changes in scope, unclear goals, unrealistic deadlines, "real work" demands, a project manager's absence of direct authority over team members, personality conflicts, and so forth. New trends for project teams include agile project management (beyond software development) and the increasing use of nontraditional collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, and Jive, which shift daily communications and documentation away from e-mail and project management platforms (http://bit.ly/2k3Osuv and http://bit.ly/2mT91xr). These new trends place greater demands on project managers to not only be comfortable with those approaches and tools, but also to help teach team members how to effectively use them. Also gaining traction is the requirement for project managers to attend to the people management, "soft skills" side of team leadership. Creating a purposeful, positive, and productive work culture boosts project team member engagement and results, as well as increases service to internal and external customers. Overreliance on Announcements In the face of these myriad team challenges, project managers (and many organizational leaders, for that matter) can often resort to "managing by announcements" or MbA. This approach is a virus-like plague that causes leaders to announce a new policy or new approach, and then expect that everyone will immediately embrace the new policy because the leader "told them to." Telling people what to do doesn't always inspire people to do what you want or need them to do. Telling them is a great start. Getting people to embrace the new approach, policy, or tool requires that leaders spend time and energy to ensure people modify their behavior, adapt their approaches, and demonstrate the new requirements. With the MbA approach, project managers announce changes to team members frequently, including goal changes, scope creep, shorter deadlines, and more. In the absence of consistent reinforcement and accountability, those project managers experience widely varying implementation of those changes. Some team members jump on board, while others ignore the new demands. Many complain. Some quit coming to team meetings. Aligned teamwork is not what occurs. Your project team charter might contribute to the "managing by announcements" plague in your team. If your charter includes team operating principles—typically broad expectations for meeting attendance, participation, alignment to the charter, and more—that are not demonstrated by team members daily, that charter has been announced but isn't embraced. A Better Way There is a better way. Project managers can take charge of their team culture, creating a purposeful, positive, and productive work environment, by crafting an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution builds on your project team charter. It includes team strategies and goals, which specify performance expectations and deadlines. It includes a servant purpose, which describes your team's "reason for being" besides creating a product. A servant purpose outlines who the team's primary customers are and how those customers will benefit from the team's efforts. Most importantly, an organizational constitution includes your team's values and behaviors, which translate vague operating principles into observable, tangible, measurable form. The number of strategies and goals can depend on the organization; however, I coach leaders to have three to four values and two to three behaviors for each value. Rather than an "announced" operating principle that says "team members hold each other accountable for goals and deadlines," one example is a team value of integrity that specifies exactly how team members are to behave daily. One organization defined integrity value as "acting with virtue, sincerity, and truthfulness." Its three integrity behaviors are: I align my actions with our values. I am honest and do what I say I will do. I take responsibility for my actions and I learn from my mistakes. With these behaviors formalized, it's much easier for leaders to live these values and behaviors, coach them, and hold team members accountable to them. Don't manage by announcements. It's not an effective way to inspire aligned behavior or build trusting and respectful relationships in a project team. Craft an organizational constitution. Live it. Coach it. Align all plans, decisions, and actions to it. You'll boost engagement, service, and results. S. Chris Edmonds is founder and chief executive officer, The Purposeful Culture Group (http://drivingresultsthroughculture.com), Denver, Colorado, and author of The Culture Engine (chris@chris-edmonds.com).

Mission-Critical Mentoring

Mentoring programs have become extremely popular primarily because so many organizations are facing the retirement of a significant number of their workforce.

Career Compass No. 46: Leading by Letting Go

In this issue of Career Compass, Dr. Benest recommends that leaders make the transition from controlling to coaching.

Leading & Managing the Community

6 Ways to Connect Across Divides

We are wired to connect. As people, we comprise the same in-group. Here are six accessible, evidence-based reset strategies that help you connect across divides.

Restore Civility to Save America

Commonsense suggestions that could make a definitive impact on overcoming the increasingly dire consequences of incivility.

Building Resilient Communities During Disruptive Change Part 3: Community Engagement and Building Public Trust

Access to best practices and tips to help you meet and overcome disruptive challenges and achieve leadership excellence in your organization.

Gauging Public Opinion the Right Way

There are more effective, efficient, and inclusive ways to harness resident opinion. Here's how.

First Step Toward Narrowing Community Divides? Start Talking!

Bridging entrenched or systemic divides isn’t easy, but opening up a dialogue can be the first step toward building community.

7 Ways City Leaders Can Address Racial Inequities

This post is written by Leon T. Andrews, Jr., Director of the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities and originally appeared in the CitiesSpeak blog.  The events of this week serve as a horrific reminder of how important it is for cities to acknowledge and take meaningful action on racial injustice. In the days following our country’s collective celebration of Independence Day, two black men were killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and white police officers were targeted, wounded, and killed in Dallas, Texas, as they were serving and protecting peaceful protesters. Racism is killing us. The National League of Cities (NLC) strengthens the capacity of local elected officials to build racial equity. I encourage municipal leaders across the country to engage with their communities on racial equity issues and make smart policy decisions that can reduce racial inequities in policing and restore police–community trust. Do not wait for a tragedy to occur in your city to address these pressing issues. Last year, NLC launched the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative to equip its membership with the capacity to respond to racial tensions in their communities, identify the systemic barriers that sustain racial injustice in our nation’s cities, and build more equitable communities. REAL provides training and resources to prepare city leaders to apply a racial equity lens to policies, initiatives, programs and budgets. What City Leaders Can Do City leaders must step up to take the lead with their police departments and community members to address racial inequities in their respective cities and towns. City leaders have a greater capacity to create real, tangible changes in policing than the federal government will ever have. Municipal leaders are in a unique position to be trailblazers in building and strengthening relationships between police and the people they serve. Build trust. Actively build trust between police and communities of color in your city.  (See Project Peace in Tacoma, Washington as one example.) Get the facts about racial disparities in your city. Numbers get attention. Do you know how many arrests, fines, tickets, violent encounters, and citizen complaints are issued to or by each racial group in your community? Getting real data on police-community interactions disaggregated by race is an important first step to developing solutions that will work for your community. See this upcoming webinarfrom our partners at the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. Listen. A frustration I hear from communities of color is that their voices are silenced, and that leaders often try to make policy solutions without engaging in meaningful dialogue around the issue. Now more than ever, this is important because folks have a lot to say and great ideas for addressing these complex issues in their communities. See examples of community dialogues on race in New Orleansand Charlottesville, Virginia. Lead. Be a vocal proponent in your community for racial equity policies, programs, and practices. Here is a resource guide for government officials and lessons learnedfrom community leaders. Change. Consider policy reforms that could work in your city. Apply a racial equity lens to your broader policies, initiatives, programs and budgets. Here is a toolkit to help you get there. Provide Training. Training can and should be implemented in every department to understand and recognize explicit and implicit bias and de-escalate crisis moments.Click here for an NLC guide to police training programs. Register to attend the leadership training on racial equity at NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh this November. Prioritize Accountability. Reframe how police departments are held accountable. Departments across the country can track quality of interactions and other outcomes in addition to numbers of arrests and tickets, particularly in communities of color. For example, the Gainesville, Florida, Chief of Police instituted an additional level of supervisor review when officers chose to arrest a youth who was in fact eligible for an alternative statewide civil citation program – and this resulted in an immediate increase in the number of citations issued to non-white youth in lieu of arrest. Similarly, how and when police use their weapons is something for which city leaders can hold police departments accountable on a consistent basis – not just when the media brings attention to a particular incident. I commend Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden for his leadership during this difficult time. Mayor Holden has promised the citizens of Baton Rouge excellence, integrity, and transparency in the investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling. He has also welcomed the support of state and federal law enforcement to ensure his citizens get answers and accountability. Mayor Holden acknowledged the deep pain felt in his community and the need for healing. “We have a wound right now. But we’ll be healing and making this city and parish whole again,” he said. (View his press conference in its entirety here.) I could not agree more with Mayor Holden that our communities must heal from trauma caused by institutional and structural racism in our country. I see wounds like this in communities divided by race and hurt by racism all over the country. The REAL initiative is just beginning its work on racial healing with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’sTruth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Enterprise. We look forward to working towards the goal to “bridge deeply embedded divides and generate the will, capacities and resources required for achieving greater equity across the nation.”  

Football Pads for Community Engagement, Bad Idea?

Our choice is in our role as local government officials—what will we choose to do? Ignore? Inform? Defend? Or will we host?

Q&A: Evanston, Illinois, Turns to Town Hall Meetings to Build Equity and Equality

Evanston set about doing intentional, focused, and good work around the issues of equity and empowerment, and committed to doing so in full conversation with the community.

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