Comments Delivered By Maury Thompson, Assistant County Manager, Johnson County
On February 1, 2013
Thank you, Noel for the opportunity to share thoughts on leadership – particularly as it relates to the public sector.
As Noel indicated in her invitation to me – perhaps my personal, professional story could serve as a demonstration of the sort of possibilities the Emerging Leaders Academy participants/graduates are encouraged to consider and plan for.
So, my story…
- Bachelor of Arts – Criminal Justice/Political Science (1984)
- Direct Support Professional at Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS) (1986)
- Increasing positions of responsibility for the next 15 years
- Master’s degree in Public Affairs (1998)
- Executive Director of Non-profit, community building (2001)
- Executive Director, Johnson County Developmental Supports (2007)
- Assistant County Manager (2013)
So, from front-line employee to Executive Director to Assistant County Manager, how I got from there to here, and what have I learned?
As each of you have demonstrated with your participation in this program, I realized the importance of education – not only as a base of knowledge – but also the need for the continuous acquisition of knowledge, or learning.
I don’t want to underestimate the importance of education and the commitment to continuous learning, because they are so fundamental to professional growth, but I want to spend the next few minutes sharing a few simple leadership lessons I’ve learned along the way.
For my Assistant County Manager interview I had to share my leadership philosophy. It forced me to spend time pondering what my philosophy is.
Like the book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” most of what I have come to know as sound leadership advice, I learned from my parents at an early age. Hopefully that’s true for you too.
Simple Leadership Lessons
- Care for others, (those doing the work and those we’re doing it for). For most of us this is the very reason we have chosen public service as a vocation. We want to help. (Servant Leadership)
- If the job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. (Excellence)
- When you’re talking to someone, look them in the eye. Listen to what others have to say. Give them the attention they deserve. Don’t be too busy to extend this courtesy. But make sure your actions are sincere. People know the difference between sincere concern and hollow action. (Respect)
- Be willing to take risk – offering yourself up as a leader, speaking out when needed. Swallow hard, stand up, speak out – even when you know you may be passed over, rejected or fail. Keep trying. My secret – the rest of the story – or what happened between those career advancements. I applied for the JCDS Executive Director and the Assistant County Manager positions – twice. Others often only know when advancement occurs, not those that didn’t occur. It’s not always about you. The organization’s current needs must best match your strengths. (Risk and Persistence)
- Be willing to make a decision – sometimes with limited information. Know when you can wait for more information and when a decision is needed now. Know when to say “I’ve made a mistake,” when to change your mind, and when to continue to stick with a decision. (Humbleness/Flexibility/Conviction)
- Work can be important and it can be hard, but we can enjoy it and each other. Humor is critical!
- You have to put in the time. Here’s where those of you who did the math earlier can now suggest it’s the old guy talking – but, I believe I’ve observed, in our quest to find a more appropriate balance of work and life, that perhaps in at least some instances, the pendulum has swung too far. Sometimes you have to work a little harder and a little longer to get the job done well and to find career advancement. (Work/Life Balance)
- Don’t expect to change the world in a week. Most change is incremental. It takes time to learn – people, the situation, the history, etc. before change is effective. Small changes motivate and build support for more change, or as Jim Collins refers to it – the flywheel. (Adaptability)
- Believe in yourself! Have a sense of optimism. I may not know how today, but I can figure it out! (Hopefulness)
- Tell people what you know. When staff ask, tell them what you know and what you’re thinking. It builds trust, understanding and credibility. (Transparency)
Finally – You’re only a leader if others agree to follow. Leadership is earned. A leader takes counsel and direction from others (Board members, peers, and employees). You only lead as long as you represent those who have placed that trust in you (employees and bosses).
I started by sharing that Noel had suggested because of my story, I might be an example for you. Hopefully I illustrated that by sharing my story – of working up through the ranks. I have perhaps underestimated the hope that that conveys. Over the past few weeks I have been struck by the numbers of county employees who have commented to me that they are so pleased that I am now in the County Manager’s Office. It’s not about me – but about the perspective that they hope I have from the agency and departments of County Government, but even more important may be the example for advancement in the organization that I represent for them.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon. I wish you only the best in the fulfillment of your own career and leadership goals. Your graduation today represents a wonderful step on that journey.
Again, my congratulations.