Monthly Archives: May 2010

Don’t we all need “a human shield from idiocy”?

Robert Sutton, professor of science and management engineering at Stanford and author of a terrific book on dealing with and surviving difficult people at work, is working on a new project about what it is, exactly, that good bosses believe about their role that makes them so good.

Among the dozen points he identifies is this gem, phrased from the boss’s point of view: “My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.” Click here to read his whole list.

Sutton’s list is useful and compelling for a couple of reasons. The first is clear in the statement above: he doesn’t pull any punches about the behavior we all observe in our workplaces or about the fact that some of these less-than-productive behaviors come from the boss. He points to the boss’s key role in running interference so that her/his staff are better able to do their work and the frustration that stems from bosses who don’t recognize this role and/or are themselves the source of the interference.

The second reason, and this is huge, is that his list isn’t simply a compiled set of ideas that ring true to him personally. Rather, he notes that each item that makes his list has some grounding in research and has been shown effective. This should make the book he’s working on worth a read.

In your experience, what do good bosses do that sets them apart from bad or even average bosses? Tell us your stories in the comments below.

Down to the Wire: Enroll now for the Emerging Leaders Academy!

Our 2010 Emerging Leaders Academy kicks off next week. We’re offering the program in two locations: Mission, Kansas starting on June 2, and in Lawrence starting on June 4. Participants meet two days per month for six months to develop skills that will enhance their abilities to be successful in the technical functions of their jobs.

The program is meant to help organizations cultivate the next generation of leaders by offering participants a chance to learn from experienced public servants. Instructors will include:

–Bernice Duletski, Deputy County Manager, Johnson County
–Gary Ortiz, Assistant County Administrator, Unified Government of Wyandotte County
–Lougene Marsh, Director, Johnson County Health Department
–Charles Jones, Director, KU Public Management Center
–Noel Rasor, Assistant Director, KU Public Management Center
–Marilu Goodyear, Chair, KU Department of Public Administration
–Terri Callahan, Program Manager, Kansas Certified Public Manager

Click here to learn more about the goals and content of our Emerging Leaders Academy
. We’d love to have you join us!

Staying in Touch with Friends Who’ve Lost Jobs: Tips for “Unemployment Etiquette”

In our super-connected world, there are a million and one ways to keep in touch with old and new friends and acquaintances.

But sometimes this doesn’t make it any easier when there’s a new layer of awkwardness inserted into a relationship due to a friend’s job loss. It’s not uncommon for the still-working person to find themselves not sure about what to say. How do you express support appropriately, in a way that’s supportive?

The always-astute Lynn Gaertner-Johnston offers some terrific guidance on this in a recent post on her Business Writing Blog, including both “Do’s” and “Don’ts.” For example:

*Don’t talk about how bad things are where you work, especially if they lost their job there. Working in hell may be preferable to not working at all. Don’t complain; and

*Do invite the individual to low-cost and no-cost events. Warmly receive both acceptance and rejection of your invitations.\

Click here to see the rest of her helpful suggestions.

Take Care of Your People

All of us Public Management Center staff delighted in the opportunity to see the Certified Public Manager participants from the three classes (Topeka, Overland Park, and Hays) together at the networking conference this week. And, as always, we can thank Terri for putting together a series of terrific sessions.

One of these sessions was given by Steve Adukaitis, a retired FEMA manager, who offered his thoughts on leadership lessons from times of crisis that can be applied in our everyday. Among the guidance he offered was “take care of your people.” Steve noted that during the eight months he spent in New Orleans helping recovery after Hurricane Katrina, there were times when the most important role he could play was to check in with his staff about the last time they took a break or had something to eat and insist that they do so when necessary.

Is there any more important reminder during this “Great Recession,” when so many public managers and their staffs are absorbing the workloads of their coworkers who have left due to either layoffs or attrition? There’s so much to be done that it can be easy to lose track of this. But are we all truly living the fact that people are our greatest resources?

For a little inspiration along this line, check out this terrific post by Seth Godin who asks what might change if we all reversed our sense of who works for who in the hierarchy. Click here to read his post. And then we invite you to share what this would change for you in the comments below.

Top 5 CPM capstone projects of 2009 to be highlighted

It’s a fun day of preparation and anticipation around the Public Management Center as we get ready for the annual Certified Public Manager networking conference tomorrow and Wednesday!

As always, the highlight will be the session where this year’s students get to hear about the top capstone projects from last year. Each participant in CPM completes a capstone project where they identify a plan for process improvement, cost savings, or revenue generation for their agency.

Last year’s top five capstones were:

* Steve Hewitt, City Manager, Greensburg, KS: “Rebuilding Greensburg’s Economy”
* Katie Howard, “Department of Agriculture, and Steve Zink, Department of Labor: “Inspections for Stationary Anhydrous Containers for Agricultural Use”
* Tanner Lucas, City of Garden City: “Integrating Social Media Technologies into City of Garden City Communication Plan”
* Gabe Ramirez, Southwest Medical Center, Liberal: “Implementation and Evaluation of the Outreach Clinical Laboratory Services at Southwest Medical Center”
* Sunni Zentner, Department of Administration: “Paycheck Modeling Tool for State of Kansas Employees”

Click here to learn more about CPM.
Enrollment for the 2011 program will begin in September.

Twitter: a stand-in for opinion polls?

Check out this CNN story about a study by Carnegie Melon University indicating that “sentiments expressed via the millions of daily tweets strongly correlate with well-established public opinion polls, such as the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) and Gallup polls.”

The full report of the study hasn’t been released yet, but it’s interesting to think that the twitter comments about a city or other government agency might be a reasonable representation of the views on an issue.

An Under-Used Approach to Building Trust

Last year as I was planning a networking activity for participants in our Emerging Leaders Academy, I bounced some ideas off Terri Callahan, CPM director and instructor extraordinaire. I mentioned the need to help people learn to ask questions, both informational and meaningful ones, of others as a way to connect with others.

Terri offered up a phrase that precisely described what I was wanting to encourage them to do: cultivate a curious spirit.

The phrase captures the idea that it’s an ability that can connect us not just to other people, but also to our own deeper selves–bringing a curious spirit to an exchange with another puts us in the mindset to assume they have something to offer and we have something to learn. In spite of the deepness of this intention, there’s also a wonderfully fun association with the idea of curiosity. It implies bringing some lively energy to the act of investigation, something we can all use bit more of these days.

Even as asking questions can energize us and establish a connection with others, when done with a genuine, curious spirit, it also helps create trust by showing regard. This is all the more important when the person asking the questions is in a leadership role and taking the time to really find out about a staff member.

In this Harvard Business Review blog post, “Learn to Ask Better Questions,” John Boldoni offers some guidance for how to ask the sorts of questions that can both cultivate and reflect your own curious spirit.

When has asking questions helped strengthen your working relationships?

Leadership as a dynamic social process

Asked to name a leader in their organization, most people will point to the person at the top of the hierarchy. But most of us recognize that it’s the actions of people who take on leadership roles on a day-to-day basis that actually move the important work of our organizations forward. (It’s these every day leaders who we seek to involve in our own Emerging Leaders Academy.)

Writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, several business professors from the University of Michigan point to the importance of a dynamic understanding of leadership roles to best leverage the contributions that all those involved in a project might make.

A lot of energy gets lost when we believe there is only space for a single leader and compete to take on that role. What if that energy were instead dedicated to achieving a successful shared outcome? Click here to read the full post.

ASPA of Greater Kansas City’s Annual Awards Dinner & 50th Anniversary Celebration coming up on May 19th, 2010

The ASPA Greater Kansas City chapter invites you to celebrate their 50th anniversary at the annual awards dinner. It will be held on Wednesday, May 19 at The Villa, 4120 Baltimore in Kansas City, Missouri. The cost is $45 / $35 for full-time students.

The chapter will recognize the 2010 award recipients in a number of categories. Of special note: Dr. George Frederickson of KU Public Administration will receive the award for Distinguished Public Administrator of the Year at an Academic Level. Congratulations, George!
Additionally, Lieutenant Jodi Andrews of the Shawnee Police Department and KU MPA student, will receive the Stanley Fisher Memorial award.

For more information or to register for the awards dinner visit

Complimentary Webinar on the 2020 Workplace coming up on Thursday

Workplace productivity firm i4cp is holding a complimentary webinar on Thursday, May 6 examining the trends that will shape the workplace in 2020 to assist organizations with succession planning initiatives.

It will feature Jeanne Meister and Dr. Karie Willyerd and cover topics featured in their new book, The 2020 Workplace: How Companies Are Innovating and Using Social Media To Attract, Develop and Engage Employees, Harper Collins, 2010. Click here for webinar registration information.

The Public Management Center’s Emerging Leaders Academy was developed to assist public organizations with succession planning by offering an opportunity for promising non-managerial staff. The next ELA begins in June and will be offered in Lawrence and in Mission in the Kansas City metro area. Click here to learn more.