Comments Delivered By Charles Jones, Director of the KU Public Management Center
On July 17, 2013
Good afternoon and welcome to the graduation ceremony for the Spring 2013 Emerging Leaders Academy.
I want to congratulate each of you, and Noel, on successfully completing this program of intensive learning, reflection, and growth. None of you got here by accident. You were selected in recognition of your accomplishments, capacities, and importance to the future of your sponsoring agencies. Your organizations chose well.
While we’re doling out congratulations, let’s take a moment to acknowledge others in the room: those who supported you throughout this process.
- We start with your sponsoring agencies, thanking them for their support through tuition funding and allowing you time away from the office. Most importantly, we thank them for their commitment to public service that works, that grows stronger even as challenges become more daunting. We thank those leaders who understand that strength of an organization lies in the capabilities and dedication of its staff.
- We thank your family, coworkers, and friends who offered encouragement and even a helping hand along the way.
- Finally, we thank the instructors and mentors who added their voices and insights to the ELA experience.
Graduates, I’d now invite you all to stand, turn, and give thanks, through applause, to those who join us today.
I received a call a couple of days ago informing me that one of our graduates would not be able to join us today. I’m not privy to the details. I only know that a law enforcement officer must sacrifice this celebration in deference to other administrative requirements. We will miss him this afternoon, but his absence serves to remind us of the sacrifices you all make to public service. Each day you run the gauntlet of fiscal strains, political pressures, public exasperation, and the wicked complexity of so many public policy issues. The challenges you face are mountainous and profound.
Perhaps the only thing larger and more powerful is the spirit of public workers like you. That spirit is fed by many things: your work is important and interesting, what you do matters – intensely and personally – to the people you serve. You share our workspace with like-minded people: this is especially true in organizations, like yours, that value staff enough to send you to a program like ELA. You know how to close ranks and move forward (Gettysburg reference) into unknowns and sometimes hostility.
But the most important source of public spirit is something each of you carries, something described by public administration scholars as “Public Service Motivation,” a personal nature that draws gratification from being:
- other-regarding: contributing to the well-being of organizations and society
- altruistic: doing good for others
- meaningful: value intrinsic rewards of work that is important and provides a feeling of accomplishment
Speaking on behalf of the PMC and all your instructors, I can assure that it is impossible to be in the presence of public service leaders such as yours and not be encouraged and inspired. Your presence in the classroom and here today affirms that while public service challenges may be great, they are met by an incomparably well-equipped and highly motivated generation of public servants, like you.
So thank you for your service. Thank you for what you have accomplished and the many accomplishments that lie before you. It’s been an honor to walk with you these past four months. Keep in touch and know that you will always be part of the Public Management Center family.
Comments Delivered By Gary O’Bannon, Director of Human Resources, City of Kansas City, MO
On July 17, 2013
You know, you write your own bio, but it always sounds foreign when someone else reads it aloud. You think to yourself, “wow, it’s funny how you look up one day and you find yourself giving commencement speeches, accepting “life-time” service awards, and pondering what you’re going to do in the next phase of your life.
Thanks to all of you for coming this afternoon to help us celebrate the July 17, 2013, Emerging Leaders Academy Graduation Ceremony. And thank you to the KU leadership here today for asking me to spend a few minutes with you.
I spent the last couple of days trying to decide what meaningful words I could share with you. I had decided on the positive aspects of dedicating your life to public service, and all the joy that brings on each day as we try to continually justify the value of what we do. Then I decided that since you are public servants, you are probably aware of two things:
- You know why you dedicated yourself to public service, and
- While there is some joy, there’s not an overabundance every day.
Regardless, the vast majority of us who chose this field say they joined public service “to make a difference.” To that end, it is important for me to begin today by collectively expressing my thanks to each of you who is associated with all the public services. Thank you for the work that you do and the services that you give, the dedication that you show, the reforms that you are spearheading, and the changes for good that you are making.
I settled on the topic that obviously flows with why you are here today and that is leadership. Holding the position of Human Resources Director allows you to form some pretty strong opinions about leadership, and turning 50 generally gives you the belief that all those opinions are perfectly right!
HR and other institutions have talked endlessly about what qualities are needed in this century, and how we develop these competencies in our emerging leaders. Not everyone agrees on what those are, depending on your perspective, but I feel a bit qualified to give you my perspective, and I hope you find it worthwhile.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work for the City of Kansas City for 28 years. I’ve seen many city councils, mayors, city managers, department directors, etc., come and go, and I’ve come to some conclusions about leadership:
- Leadership is about courage, creativity and faith in people.
- You can’t be a successful leader without mediation skills to facilitate knowledge sharing, ensure ownership and accountability, and foster innovation.
- You must have a vision rooted in community service and ethical behavior.
- You must have a sense of decisiveness in ever-changing environments with blurred boundaries.
Perhaps an oversimplification, but leaders have to effect solutions. Leaders solve problems and are successful by coalescing others for the same purpose.
We’ve been in the work world long enough and seen enough successes and failures to realize that one of the most important obstacles to success is short-sighted vision. The inability, or the lack of opportunity, to look at an overall agenda – agendas that are medium- to long-term.
We often take our cues from our national leaders, who set the tone – like kids in the household who take the same cues and tones set by their parents. It’s not breaking news that our political leaders are failing us. The election models of today, 2-4 year terms fight against problem resolution and place a premium on differences. Once elected, members spend their day trying to outmaneuver other parts of the political spectrum. And the problem is that this is okay because this model hasn’t changed in decades. We say it is not okay but is it really? It’s still in place and no one has a viable solution. In the meantime people suffer, opportunities are lost, and goals are not reached.
This malaise has crept into our workplace as well. We’re not immune. The next tier of leaders have got to coalesce and find a better way to work collectively to solve this problems. Otherwise, we’ll all lose together. You must commit to having the courage to do what’s right and to stand for the principles that are expected of each of us, particularly for the leaders who work as public servants.
We create lots of labels to separate us: I’m a supervisor, you’re a subordinate; I’m a manager, you’re my report-to…. Regardless of the labels that separate us, you must never forget that there are more similarities amongst us than differences, and the vast majority of us are working towards the same goals, and we all want the same thing—opportunities, respect, and support.
Leadership is a tough proposition. When the sun is shining and the money is good, all is right with the world. However, with leadership comes accountability, not only of yourself but of those that you lead.
It is impossible to be an effective leader without the ability to sit down and talk to people. LISTEN! If they are wrong, explain why and describe for them the correct path.
It is crucial to mediate conflict, ask probing questions, and get to the source of the issue without emotion but with the appropriate amount of passion to bring problems to a proper resolution. Unfortunately, you won’t win everyone over. You will lose some along the way. You’ll lose less by spending 99% of your time coaching up and acknowledging the 99% of those individuals and teams that reach success as opposed to spending 99% on that 1% who aren’t with the program. That 1% has to be held accountable and the 99% not only expect you to do it, but will demand it or take their talents elsewhere (maybe to south beach!). We must again never forget that most people want to do the right thing and will if given the proper tools and the proper motivation and the proper leadership.
We must control our inherent tendency to avoid potential conflict. Unfortunately, this is part of the deal. Visionary change can’t come without conflict. In fact, I proffer that it WON’T COME without managed conflict. If you’re a supervisor or manager and everyone likes you, I would suspect that you’re not doing it right. “If everyone speaks well of you… there’s something wrong with you” and leadership is not for you.
We need to give serious pause to what’s going on around us. I believe we are at a serious crossroads in our society, which only extends to the workplace, and if you believe it doesn’t – you’re just flat out wrong. The ills of society invade the most functional of homes and those on the “best places to work” list.
Again, leadership is not coming from our national leadership structures – ground roots are rising up again – that’s a sign that something is going wrong, and that we’re not trending the right way. Rights for gay people didn’t come from the Capitol; changes to the justice system don’t come from inside the justice systems. Workplace change doesn’t come from Big Business or Congress. It comes from us. It comes from a collective spirit and a group that says, change by any means necessary.
Quick examples: Just a few years ago, what employers would have granted certain rights and benefits to gay couples, domestic partners? It took a while but smoking used to be “cool.” One of my favorite actors is Humphrey Bogart. I’ve got more than one picture or symbol of that guy in my house right now, and in each one he’s lighting up! In about 20 years, smokers have gone from Joe-Cool to standing outside in the freezing cold or in boxy, enclosed death cubicles – they’re almost pariahs in 2013! Heck, before the dot.com era, who could bring their pets to work with them?! Change comes from within these structures and if you don’t adapt to them you’re left behind. Some will say that Apple and Microsoft are driving technological enhancements every six months to make money – true to some degree – but who’s driving that demand? We do! People do.
If you look back in our history, throughout the progress of human society, what’s really worked best in the interest of society is a vision which looks beyond today and into the future. Think in your mind right now who some of those people were – their success was rarely immediate; they knew that real, true success would not come until years later and perhaps not even in their lifetime. However, they had the courage to take the first step.
We need to find out who these people are and celebrate them and bring them into the decision-making fold.
Leadership is about leading with the heart and to serve rather than rule.
Comments Delivered by Brandon Bayless, City of Topeka
At the Emerging Leaders Academy Graduation Ceremony on July 17, 2013
I first off want to thank all of you for being here to show your support for the Emerging Leaders Academy graduates. I’m sure I can speak on behalf of everyone by saying it is greatly appreciated. Next I want to thank Noel Rasor and the KU Public Management Center staff for making this possible for all of us. Their guidance and support truly made this course great, and we could not have done it without them.
Thinking back through my experiences with the Emerging Leaders Academy, I have to say it was one of the best courses I have ever taken. The structure of our class allowed for a great amount of discussions and reflections over the many important and critical issues facing the public sector in this day and age. I’ve heard many of my fellow graduates use the word invaluable to describe this course, and they are right. This was an invaluable experience.
Being able to use our own professional experiences to guide the discussions and conversations definitely heightened the level of learning we were able to achieve. Obviously the organizations being represented here thought very highly of these graduates in sending them to this course. Now I want to challenge you to find and give opportunities for leadership to these graduates and allow them move your organizations onto bigger and better things.
By Bonnie Svrcek
Deputy City Manager, City of Lynchburg, Virginia & President, International City/County Management Association (2012-2013)
- Be courageous
- Ask for advice
- Say “yes” with pleasure and “no” with compassion
- Be patient
- Patience pays off
- Things are not always what they seem
- Be mindful of ego
- Be self-aware
- Take time to take stock in where you are (personally and professionally) at least annually
- Choose wisely! (from Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”)
- Understand that some of our greatest lessons come from disappointments
- Always have a Plan B!
- Exercise courage in executing Plan B (or any plan!)
- Take time to recover from disappointment
- Seize the moment
- Find moments for crucial conversations
- Exercise personal humility and professional will at all times (from Jim Collins, Good to Great)
Bonnie was one of the keynote speakers for the KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference in 2013. She was kind enough to share these thoughts with us to post on our blog.