Category Archives: Productivity

Noel Rasor – Emerging Leaders Academy Reflections

ELA Director, Noel Rasor, highlights the achievements of the Fall 2016 ELA class, as well as reflects on the program itself.

ELA Director, Noel Rasor, highlights the achievements of the Fall 2016 ELA class, as well as reflects on the program itself.

Comments Delivered by Noel Rasor, Emerging Leaders Academy Director

On January 11th, 2017


Good Afternoon. My name is Noel Rasor. I’m the Assistant Director of the University of Kansas Public Management Center and the program manager of the Emerging Leaders Academy. On behalf of the Public Management Center staff, I want to extend a warm welcome to our guests, the families, friends and supervisors of the ELA graduates—we truly appreciate your setting aside the time to be able to be here with us this afternoon to celebrate the work these individuals have put into this program over the past 5 months.

Beyond this, we truly appreciate the efforts on the part of all of our guests this afternoon that made it possible for the individuals here in the front to complete this program. You’ve taken the phone calls and handled the urgent matters while these folks were away for class. Families, we know that many of you added a few more items to your own never-ending to-do lists at home to cover things while they spent some time in the evenings preparing, and I suspect many of you helped them track down old copies of certificates and reports that they wanted to add to their portfolios. So, ELA class, please stand and turn around and join me in thanking your supporters for making your participation possible. I know I speak not only for the PMC but also for the graduates when I say we have deep gratitude for the investments all of you have made in your emerging leaders and in your trust of the Public Management Center to offer something of value to these individuals.

As a program that is meant to support the need for succession planning in public sector organizations, ELA targets promising non-managerial staff in government and other public service agencies to help them identify and hone the skills that are necessary for success in higher level roles. But by design this time spent in reflection and skills building also has immediate benefits for the participants and their departments. This is nearly always the case: when we remember to list our eyes from the road and look to the horizon, it offers us insight that we can bring to the here and now. Today’s program recognizes and celebrates the efforts of this group of public servants to elevate what’s important—thinking about goals, values, skills-building, their own strengths and those of the others, and the future– to co-exist with what all that is urgent in the everyday.

Looking to the horizon in ELA involves a lot of opportunities to engage with peers around topics and issues that show up in and shape all of our workplaces. While Public Management Center instructors bring important expertise and great content around topics like communication, ethics, leadership, and managing up, those of you who have been through a PMC class know twe believe that a good class is one in which participants learn as much from one another as they do from any of us as instructors. We structure our classes around opportunities for participants to engage and connect with one another as they leverage the many experiences they bring to class with them. I take tremendous pride in our ability at the PMC to create this environment from the first hour on the first day. Humans may be competitive, but we are also profoundly social creatures with big, active brains. We want to learn and we want to connect. When those of us “in charge” at any given moment create environments that allow for connection to happen, people step into that opportunity with eagerness, and everyone is better off because of it.

So thank you for being here today to help us recognize the efforts and accomplishments of this group of public servants in the Emerging Leaders Academy.  I’m so glad to have you with us to celebrate the achievements of these leaders who, we trust, will be a driving force in your organizations in the future.



I want to bring us to a close this afternoon with some thoughts about how what these individuals achieve in the context of this program shows us about finding our way forward in these tumultuous times of rapid change and competing world views.

One of the things that I most love about the opportunity to teach in our programs like ELA and CPM is that they bring together such a huge mix of people who hold such a variety of public service roles. Sitting together at a table in this group we might have a sheriff’s deputy, a lawyer, a DMV specialist, an accountant, and a fleet mechanic. At the next table you’ll find an executive assistant, a firefighter, an epidemiologist, an IT tech, and a building inspector. And the next table has yet another mix…all this to say nothing of the personalities of these individuals, or the many skills and passions they have outside of work. They bring backgrounds in theater, cheer squad, acoustic music, and tae kwan do. They serve as volleyball coaches, Boy Scout leaders, election poll workers, nonprofit board members, and Sunday school teachers. They organize BBQs to raise money for friends with cancer, and coordinate community groups to paint murals. We have a pilot, an Elvis impersonator, and a member of Box of Crickets (as the English translation is what I can pronounce), voted the #1 Latin band in Kansas City. All this is on top of the work they do managing the stuff that comes with family obligations, and I’m sure this list only scratches the surface.

As impressive as all this is—and let me assure you, this group is pretty impressive—I think they are simply a representative sample of all the talent and skills and passion that surrounds us every single day in our organizations. So that’s the first point that we should all find to be a hopeful and encouraging reminder: our government agencies are staffed by dedicated, passionate people with amazing abilities to address the challenges we face.

But there’s something more noteworthy at this particular moment in time: the extent to which these individuals found common ground and developed real friendships that reach across the divides in their experiences and perspectives. They discovered that they have common experiences in dealing with difficult colleagues, using clunky technology that sometimes makes their jobs harder instead of easier, in being proud of providing good service, in keeping mental lists of all the things they want to and are slowly tweaking to make government work better for its employees and its citizens, in their cynicism because of what they’ve seen and experienced, and in their inextinguishable optimism because of what they’ve seen and experienced. When we create settings for people to come together and connect, they find common ground.

It feels important to call all our attention to this at this very fraught moment in our culture when our attention is so often drawn to what divides us. And I’m quite certain there are some profound disagreements among this group in political perspectives, policy orientations, and beliefs about what is needed to create a strong future for our communities and our country. But quite frankly, mostly this didn’t come up. We were busy thinking about the circumstances in which we and others thrive in the workplace and how we go about creating that. And with that focus, we achieved what I think is a sure sign that something is going right in the class: some self-admitted softening around the edges among a few of our most cynical, road-weary professionals.

All this, I believe, shows us a way forward in these difficult times: be open to finding the goodness in others, and throw kindness around like confetti while you look for it. When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose to be kind. This smooths over the differences, highlights the common ground, and ultimately moves us toward a more perfect union.

Thank you so much for being here today. I hope you’ll stay and join us for refreshments, and I look forward to the next time our paths cross in the future.

Emerging Leaders Academy graduation – Faculty Reflections from Director Laura Howard

PMC Director, Laura Howard, gives her reflections about the course from the instructor perspective.

PMC Director, Laura Howard, gives her reflections about the course from the instructor perspective.

Comments Delivered by Public Management Center Director, Laura Howard

On January 11th, 2017

Good afternoon, everyone.  I am so pleased to be able to share some reflections on the occasion of this Emerging Leaders Academy Graduation Ceremony. It’s been great to participate as faculty in this Emerging Leaders Academy.  I’ve been privileged to get to know in a small way some very dedicated public servants

I have watched individuals learn and grow from session to session. Learning something one day and applying it at work the next day. I have listened to individuals and observed their dedication to both personal growth and organizational success.  I’ve seen folks moving eagerly, outside of their comfort zones.   I have listened to individuals learn new ideas or strategies to advance in their own workplace from people who work in entirely different organizations.

Before I introduce our keynote speaker, I’d like to say a few words to our graduates and to their organizations.

Your organizations chose well when they chose you.   As you finish this Emerging Leaders Academy, I would urge you to:

  • Continue on the journey to recognize, use and leverage your strengths; [Remember, Gallup has found that when people understand and apply their strengths, the effect on their lives and work is transformational. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their work and three times more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life.]
  • Own your career – be the protagonist of your own career, not a supporting character;

In his farewell speech, I heard President Obama share some thoughts that I think relate well to the idea of owning your own future – President Obama said:

Show Up, Dive In, and Stay At It – Persist, and Sometimes You’ll Win. 

These are wise words – Showing Up is the first step.  You’ve done that.   And when you show up, don’t sit back passively – dive in with your ideas and passion.   And know that sometimes things are hard, and success takes persistence, and sometimes a different path than what we have planned.  Show Up, Dive In, Persist.

And to the organizations and employers, first I would say thank you for identifying and investing in your emerging leaders.   Thank you for understanding the importance of this investment not just to individual development but to organizational success.   But, just as I’ve encouraged the graduates today, I would also urge the employers and sponsoring agencies to:

  • Use these graduates; they’re ready and eager to contribute to the agency as a whole;
  • Let them take risks; give them permission to succeed and to ‘fail forward’’;
  • Look for engagement opportunities;
  • Look for ways to explicitly link the individual development goals of your emerging leader to your organizational goals;
  • Give your emerging leader a chance to help solve some of the biggest challenges you are facing as an organization – let them see behind the curtain; create opportunities for them to share their insights and ideas, and to volunteer for new challenges – this might mean creating ways for them to have a meaningful effect across your whole organization;
  • In the same way that you made a significant investment through sponsoring participation in the Emerging Leaders Academy, recognize and act on the fact that these emerging leaders are a critical organizational asset, that needs to be nurtured and managed accordingly.

Finally, to the graduates, on behalf of the Public Management Center and all the instructors, thank you for the chance to connect with you over these last several months.  It’s been our pleasure and privilege to be part of this process and to be heartened again by the heart and spirit of those invested in the challenging and rewarding work of public service.

Congratulations again, keep us posted moving forward, and know that you are now and forever part of the Public Management Center Family.

Lawrence Public Library Director advises graduates to lead through vision

Brad Allan, Director of the Lawrence Public Library, gives the graduation address.

Brad Allan, Director of the Lawrence Public Library, gives the graduation address.

Comments Delivered by Brad Allen, Lawrence Public Library Director

On January 11th, 2017

Thank you for having me here today and congratulations on your graduation from the Emerging Leaders Academy. I’m honored and humbled to be here with you today. I would never have thought anyone would ask me to give a speech at a graduation, so thank you Noel and everyone at the Public Management Center for this invitation. I guess this is what happens when you are recognized as a leader, so I guess this must mean I am one. It’s a bit surreal I’ll have to admit, but here we are. So let’s make the best of it.

Here’s what I want to say to you. When you are called to lead, lead, and work hard to do it well. One very important thing I’ll say, make sure you want to lead–or are at least willing to take on the responsibility involved in leading. Simple enough, right? Well, maybe, but you’ve already taken a great first step enrolling in this formal leadership academy.

To be honest, I never saw myself as a leader or ever really aspired to become one. I hope that’s OK to admit here. I’ve always been a fan of finding a great leader and helping them, providing the best work and expertise I could to serve their vision. So it’s confusing how I ended up where I am. I’ve always liked being a technical expert, and while I’ve always needed leaders who allowed me to speak my mind, I didn’t want to be the one to make the final decisions that have an effect on so many others. Whoops. Well, here I am now, and perhaps someday here you will also be. Or perhaps you already are.

So a little background on my accidental arrival at leadership and why I’m still doing it and hope I’m doing it well.

I entered the world of formal leadership for the same reasons many others have, I imagine. I didn’t like the ways things were. I had a vision of what I wanted–or maybe didn’t more honestly put, a vision of what I want. I applied for a job as a library director here in Lawrence because I saw an opportunity to create something from the ground up. A new building was being built. It was an opportunity to create something new and different and hopefully better and more fun than the norm. I had a moment of ambition I guess you could say, sitting In Seattle worrying I was in a dead end job. Much to my surprise, I got the job and all the responsibility that comes with it.

I try to accomplish two things at work. First, provide the best library I can to the community I serve. Many people may have many different views of what that actually means. So I use my best judgment, and even more importantly, I seek the counsel of those I work with and those I serve because those are my best tools for deciding what the best library for my community would be. I also make sure to regularly ask myself why I do what I do. I’d encourage you to do the same.

The second thing might sound a bit silly, but I decided I would try being a boss, a leader, whatever, in hopes that I would be a good one, and that there would be one less bad boss out there ruining people’s lives. Bad bosses have been one of the biggest stresses in my life, and as you probably already know, they are the single biggest reason people quit their jobs, even ones they like. I figured that even if I could just be a good boss, I could slightly improve the lives of the few people that worked for me.

So, given these two things, I see my job as a balancing act between running the best library possible and providing the most enjoyable, and hopefully fulfilling, working environment I can. Sometimes, these things coincide beautifully. Sometimes, they don’t. I see my job as bringing these two goals into harmony the best I can.

A leader sets the tone of the organization. I know that’s obvious, but it’s still important to articulate. What a leader says and how a leader behaves affects everyone in an organization. People look to their leaders to know what to do, how to act, how to understand what the rules are and what the organizational culture is like. Being mindful of your words and actions is a huge responsibility as a leader, and as a new leader, I think it’s really easy to forget that what you do and say has an impact like you never had before. So be mindful of that.

Earlier, I asked you to be a good leader, and I’m not sure how much advice I’ve given you in trying to achieve that, so in closing, let me give it a shot right now. I want to ask all of you to above all, lead with compassion and empathy.

Our world keeps changing and becoming more complex at an accelerated rate, and I don’t think it’s going to let up anytime soon. And until the robots come to take all our jobs–and perhaps that will happen sooner than we realize–most of us will continue to work. At jobs. For money. And our work will continue to involve bosses, people I prefer to call leaders.

So in this environment, I ask you to be the compassionate and empathetic leader our world demands. Work stress continues to increase. Life stress continues to increase. It is the job of leaders to provide the best environment for our colleagues to survive –actually, I’ll go ahead and say thrive–in the face of rapid, often overwhelming change and demands. Outcomes matter, efficiency matters, meeting board expectations matter, but none of those goals can be meaningfully achieved, or meaningfully celebrated if we lose sight of human factors. So, have compassion for yourself and have compassion for the human beings that surround you. Seek to understand and empathize with the day to day work struggles of those you lead. As a result, you will contribute to the positive feedback loop of making your workplace a place that achieves two important goals–its mission and vision, and to be a healthy, rewarding place for human beings to punch the clock and get their paychecks.

An organization is only as good as the humans and the human interactions that it consists of, so show your humanity to others and see the humanity in everyone you interact with. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and allow others to show their vulnerability. As a leader, these things are more crucial than they’ve ever been.

So be good to one another. Live long and prosper. Thank you for your time. Good luck and take good care.

Reflections from Emerging Leaders Academy Graduate: LaMonica Upton

LaMonica Upton, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, speaks on behalf of her Fall 2016 ELA class.

LaMonica Upton, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, speaks on behalf of her Fall 2016 ELA class.

Comments Delivered by LaMonica Upton, Livable Neighborhoods Liason for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, KS,

On January 11th, 2017

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us.  THANK you to the University of Kansas Public Management Center for offering such a great program.  To the supervisors, managers, Department heads who thought it was worthwhile to expose your teams to such a phenomenal program.  Noel, I am so happy that it was YOU that lead us in this journey.  Your spirit and passion are reflected in the work of the PMC and they are BLESSED to have you.

ELA friends, what an AMAZING journey we are completing today.  We all travelled to this place via different vehicles.  For some of us it was:

Our turn – our organizations have a simple selection process “Your up next”

Good for your career path – taking a leadership class was a part of your “Goals” or a directive from the powers that be.

This is what leaders do – I should take this class and it will look great on my resume

Kicking and Screaming – Why do I need to do this, I’m not a leader, this is a waste of my time

Horseshack Moment – “Oooh  pick me, pick me”

The bottom line is that WE all ended up in the same place at the same time.  Kismet, fate, destiny, coincidence, fluke, chance or one of my favorite words to use “Serendipity”.

Reflect on these things:   We’ve learned a lot ~How will/can we use what we’ve learned?  ~Will it make a difference?  YES IT WILL!! If YOU use it!

As we move from this time and place to the next adventure in our professional and personal lives, Let’s strive to be Multipliers of professionalism, Unity, and Love and Diminishers of Mediocrity, Self-Doubt and Hate.  Fulfill your dreams of your GREATEST.

Trust yourself “Who you are”, Embrace the fact that you have something to offer

Don’t let others design your life for you, be intentional in finding situations that play on your strengths.

It is not simply enough to be Present!!! Amy Cuddy says that “Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves.”  Our families, friends and communities need US to show up and when we do it gives others permission to SHINE!!!

Thank you

Reflections from Emerging Leaders Academy Graduate: Beth Benfield

Beth Benfield, graduate from the ELA program, with PMC Director Laura Howard, and ELA Program Manager Noel Rasor

Beth Benfield, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, with PMC Director Laura Howard, and ELA Director Noel Rasor

Comments Delivered by College of Professional School Shared Service Center (CPS SSC) Grant Coordinator, Beth Benfield, University of Kansas

On January 11th, 2017

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in the five months, almost five months, worth of class and the connections we built.  I can’t talk directly about everybody in the class and what they contributed but hopefully this will give you a good idea of what went on with us.

The Emerging Leaders Academy brought together an assortment of personalities from diverse employers.  Although each one of us had a different reason for attending along with different expectations, we all shared the desire to improve our leadership.

From day one bonds started to form and we were made to feel at ease.  Remarkable what a little humor and honestly can do, so thank you Gary for breaking the ice and setting the stage.

Whether we struggled or exceled during our sessions, ELA cultivated a learning atmosphere covering old and new topics.  Along the way our perspectives changed, values were solidified, meanings explored and ideas communicated.  Strengths, abilities and accomplishments were shared while being celebrated with jazz hands and hoorays.

ELA has laid a foundation, provided tools and will remain a resource.  We will continue developing our leadership in current and future endeavors.  I for one will miss spending time with such an awesome group of participants and instructors.  Thank you for the opportunities and memories.

When one small step equals one giant leap

The ideas in David Allen’s book on productivity, Getting Things Done, struck a chord with many readers who had struggled with other methods of organization, myself included.

A big “aha moment” for me occurred when he suggested that instead of listing entire projects on one’s to-do list, instead list the next action steps to be taken. Thus, “plan banquet” might be replaced with “call to check on room availability.” Where “plan banquet” can seem somewhat overwhelming and thus hard to handle, making a phone call is a contained step that can be taken care of and checked off the list. And, importantly, small steps are far less daunting and we’re more likely to act on them.

This recent post on the Magic Words blog
is a great reminder that taking a first small step on a big project can propel us forward in a way that changes everything. What big challenge on your plate could benefit from a first small step?

One Simple Change Could Lead to More Productive Meetings

There are many issues that benefit from the collective discussion that takes place during meetings. But if you’ve ever walked out of a meeting unclear about what, exactly, was accomplished by the discussion, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston’s Business Writing Blog recently suggested that the problem may be in the agenda.

The solution? Add a second point under each discussion item that starts with “outcome:” or “results:”

She offers this example from a planning meeting. Rather than just “Discuss plans for trade show,” the agenda item becomes:

* Discuss plans for trade show.
* Outcomes: (1) Confirm list of activities. (2) Identify who will coordinate each activity. (3) Decide on essential action items for this month.

With this change to each meeting item, it is clear to all attendees not only what needs to happen at the meeting but also what will need to be done and by whom afterward. Now that’s a worthwhile meeting.

A Win-Win? Wellness Programs and Employee Productivity

A report on the Business Wire indicates that, according to MetLife’s 8th annual Employee Benefits Trends Study, 68% of employees said that over the last 12 months they were affected by increased feelings of job insecurity, a decrease in the quality of their work, an increase in their workload or being distracted at work because of financial worries.

The challenge, of course, is that managers are asking more from their employees because of the very conditions that are causing these stresses.

What would help? The MetLife report suggests that providing access to health and wellness programs, work/life balance programs, and financial advice and guidance in the workplace could be a win-win as approximately eight out of ten employees say that they believe their productivity would be favorably impacted by these programs:

* 77% of employees said financial advice and guidance programs would improve their productivity.
* 81% said that health and wellness programs would improve their productivity.
* 82% stated that work/life balance programs would improve their productivity.

Many employers have yet to act on this information, however, even when they recognize the value of such wellness programs. Read more.