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Iowa City / County Management Association


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Career Compass No. 67: Effective Leaders Start with Compassion

by Dr. Frank Benest
November 16, 2018

Dear Frank,

I’m the supervising building inspector. I oversee three other inspectors in a densely populated, diverse, and poorer community of 50,000 residents. I report to the chief building official.

Here is the big problem: Our region is experiencing a housing crisis. A lot of working people can’t afford to rent an apartment for themselves or their families. Instead, they are renting out garages, sheds, and even tents from homeowners. Many of these structures don’t meet building code standards and are, in fact, unsafe to live in. Our inspectors have sometimes discovered 10-15 people living in a garage. We get complaints from neighbors or referrals from police and fire personnel who come across these illegal second units or structures.

Once we inspect these structures, our inspectors “red tag” them, giving the property owner 10 days (as required by code) to fix the code problems or requiring the renters to vacate. Some structures need minor improvements (bigger windows, stabilized water heater, door opening outward) and some need major improvements (a foundation or rebar, anchoring of structure, toilets, heating).

Property owners and tenants of these units have come out in large numbers to vehemently protest our inspections and corrective notices. Residents living in illegal structures don’t want to be thrown out into the streets and property owners say that they can’t afford to keep their properties without renting out auxiliary units.

The chief building official and I have testified at these raucous hearings that we can’t ignore structures that pose a health and safety hazard. The city council is under great political pressure. Many people have urged the council to declare an “amnesty” and basically waive (ignore) the code so they don’t go homeless. We inspectors, of course, see the need to uphold our legal and professional responsibilities to ensure public safety. However, we feel caught in the middle and quite perplexed by this challenge.

I want to act as a leader and help our organization and the community resolve this issue. Where do I begin? How do I respond with my team to this no-win dilemma?


DR. BENEST:

You are caught in the middle. It’s a messy, uncertain, and politically charged situation with no right or wrong answers. I commend you for seeing the need and opportunity to step up as a leader and help address this community challenge. As a starting point, I suggest that you go beyond your narrow legal and professional duties and try to figure out a response by exhibiting compassion.

You need compassion for all parties:
• Renters
• Property owners
• Neighbors
• Elected officials
• Your staff
• Yourself

Compassion springs from our recognition that suffering is part of the human condition. We must recognize our common humanity if we are to act compassionately.

WHAT IS COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP? Compassion is seeking to understand what another person is experiencing, feeling for them in a genuine way, and taking action to help them be successful or alleviate their suffering. Compassionate leadership is intent upon seeking and contributing to the wellbeing of others. It is other-centered. Compassion is not about being a pushover or trying to please everyone. We do what is required of us as professionals, yet we seek ways to respond to the needs of others.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMPASSION AND EMPATHY? People often confuse compassion with empathy. Empathy is feeling what others feel by putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy may immobilize you so there is no constructive action. Compassion requires that you respond through your action as a leader.

WHY COMPASSION? As a leader, you are often confronted with difficult, messy problems. To promote the wellbeing of others, compassion requires that you enter conversations with others, ask questions, listen intently, and then respond even if there is no ideal solution. Conversation creates connection. People won’t follow you without connection. (See Career Compass No. 61: Leadership is the Art of Conversation) By seeking a compassionate response, you show that you care. People will trust you and connect with you if you demonstrate that you care.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR ELEMENTS LEADERSHIP? According to Anna Kawar, cofounder of Leading Through Connection, compassionate leadership involves several elements.

Compassionate leaders do four things. As a compassionate leader, you must

1. Figure out your intention through self-reflection. Reflect about your values (see Career Compass No. 57: Leading by Living Our Values), acknowledge any assumptions or biases, and identify your responsibilities as a professional and a leader. To identify your intent, you must carve out time and create space for self-reflection and conversation with those close to you, such as a partner or coach or close colleague.

2. Explore options in an imperfect world through conversation. These conversations must involve all the affected stakeholders, including residents living in the illegal units, property owners, neighbors, your inspectors, and top management and elected officials.

For instance, you may conduct one-on-one conversations with inspectors and then, perhaps, several staff meeting discussions. Your inspectors are undoubtedly questioning their role and responsibilities and feeling uncertain, confused, and troubled. Therefore, you must create a safe environment to explore what they are experiencing and what ideas they may have in response to the dilemma.

To generate ideas, you might want to ask some catalytic questions, such as:

• What are we experiencing and feeling?
• What are the hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns of the various groups that we are serving?
• What is our big responsibility?
• What if we do nothing? What are the consequences of our current approach?
• What are some alternative ways or approaches for responding to our big obligations?
• What would be a stretch?
• What could we learn?
• What about. . .?
• What if. . .?
• What else?
• What are we missing?
• What can we do together?

These conversations with all the involved parties will yield some viable responses while demonstrating that you care. It is best if you let go of any agenda and allow opinions, feelings, and desires to emerge without rushing to find a solution. By giving space for possibility, you are able to discover more options and signal that you are not there to change minds but to listen. Of course, then you, the building official, the city manager, and ultimately, the council must decide to act.

3. Take constructive action after conducting authentic conversations. (See section below for some examples of constructive actions even though there are no perfect solutions.)

4. Assess the impact of your action. Debrief your actions with your team. What went well? What did not go so well? What did you all learn for future practice? There will, of course, be missteps, so you need to fix things up as you go along. As Dan Rockwell suggests, learn as you go, not before you go (“The Six Chapters of Every Leader’s Journey”, Leadership Freak blog, July 22, 2018).

HOW WOULD COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP HELP ADDRESS YOUR HEALTH AND SAFETY CHALLENGE?
By having conversations with all the parties, you might conclude that several compassionate responses could be pursued. For instance, you might with your team recommend some short- to medium-term actions by the city:

• Differentiate between non-health and safety infractions that are not life-threatening and those that, in fact, pose serious hazards.
• Work with top management and the council to allow 30 days (not just 10 days as stipulated in your current code) for property owners to make the improvements for those structures not posing grave health and safety concerns.
• Partner with the county and nonprofit agencies to relocate families who live in unsafe structures.
• Develop minimum standards for garage conversions and work with property owners to make the conversions safe.
• Prequalify a few contractors to help property owners make the improvements.
• Create an online resource center for displaced families and property owners who are trying to comply.

In respect to mid- to longer-term actions, you might recommend that the city;
• Create a loan or grant program to help property owners make do-able improvements.
• Put auxiliary units on the property tax assessment rolls with new property tax revenues going into the loan or grant fund to replenish the fund.

Of course, the long-term solution is working with public, nonprofit, and private partners to build more low-income housing in the community.

To the extent that these constructive actions help alleviate some suffering, they are compassionate responses. They also require smart risk-taking, such as engaging partners, calling your effort a pilot, tying your programmatic responses to the larger council agenda, using influentials (clergy?) as sponsors, and the like. (See Career Compass No. 18: Taking Smart Risks.)

WHAT MAY YOU FEAR ABOUT COMPASSION?
As suggested by Roger Schwarz (“What Stops Leaders from Showing Compassion?”, Harvard Business Review, Aug 29, 2013), it is common for leaders to feel some trepidation about acting compassionately. As a leader, you may fear that:

• “If I’m compassionate, people will think I agree with them.”

You can show compassion even if you disagree with people’s ideas or cannot support what they want you to do.

• “I’ll be perceived as too nice or soft or pleasing.”

You can feel for people’s suffering yet still hold them accountable. For example, you must insist that the property owners make the required health and safety improvements, or they cannot rent out auxiliary units.

• “I will be left responsible for solving all the problems.”

You can be compassionate as a leader by listening to people, exploring options, and doing what is reasonable and do-able given your legal, professional, and even moral obligations. You are not accepting all the responsibility. Responsibility means the ability to respond. You are responding in the ways that you can.

WHAT DOES COMPASSION REQUIRE?
Compassion requires pause and reflection. You must first get a handle on your own emotions and acknowledge your confusion, doubts, and frustrations. And then you must ask yourself, “What am I compelled to do given my compassion for others?”

Compassion also requires conversation, relationship, and connection. Compassion is other-centered and involves getting out of your own bubbles or spheres and exploring the realities of other parties. It’s not all about you and your responsibilities and needs. It’s also about what others need. You must put aside your ego and focus on the wellbeing of others, all in an environment where there are no perfect solutions.

Compassion usually involves some measure of courage.

You must let down your guard, try to make connection, and then take constructive action, even though there may be disagreement and conflict. Courage is when we fear failure, a lack of acceptance, push-back, or ridicule . . . yet we act anyway (see Career Compass No. 58: Overcoming Deep-Seated Fears).

Finally, compassion is about self-compassion. Compassion must encompass self-compassion. Thus, it is self-interested as well as other-interested. Even as we try to respond to the needs of others, we as leaders must reflect on what we are experiencing and feeling; what we need; what are our responsibilities to ourselves. For example, what must the Building Division simply not allow in terms of major health and safety hazards even in the face of political pressure for “amnesty”?

So, compassion requires time, patience, kindness, and strength.

WHY IS SELF-COMPASSION SO IMPORTANT?
As you attempt to exert leadership amid all this complexity, you must give yourself a break. As you and your team deal with the challenge of illegal accessory units, you will make mistakes and might even fail. If you are self-compassionate, you don’t need to berate ourselves or blame others (the two common reactions to mistakes).

According to Serena Chen (“Give Yourself a Break: The Power of Self-Compassion,” Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct, 2018), people with self-compassion demonstrate three behaviors. First, they are kind rather than judgmental about their own mistakes; second, they acknowledge that setbacks are a shared human experience; and third, they are not overwhelmed by negative emotions whey they make a mistake. They feel bad but move forward. Those with self-compassion typically have a growth mindset. They don’t believe that their talents and skills are fixed. Rather, they see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

WHAT ARE THE LIKELY OUTCOMES OF COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP?
Even though your constructive action is not everything any one group wants you to do, compassion demonstrates that you care about others and therefore engenders trust and builds followership and commitment. Furthermore, if you model compassion, it leads to compassion by others. You begin to build a more compassionate organizational culture which is open to diverse perspectives, different ways of doing things, and learning from mistakes and even failures. Thus, compassionate leadership generates more creative responses by local government.

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT WHO WE ARE
Leadership is about doing. But it’s more than just doing.

Compassionate leadership requires that we
• Reflect upon the needs of all parties including ourselves.
• Engage others, ask questions, and listen.
• Acknowledge the hopes, dreams, interests, fears, and concerns of others.
• Encourage others to share ideas.
• Integrate the ideas of other stakeholders, including staff.
• Take action. • Invite action by others.
• Let others lead with you.
• Fix things up and learn as we go along.

Compassion requires humility. We need to ask for help and acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We need to show up to learn, not educate.

To paraphrase Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA, leadership is about how to be, not just how to do.

Sponsored by the ICMA Coaching Program, Career Compass is a monthly column from ICMA focused on career issues for local government professional staff. Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA’s liaison for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California. If you have a career question you would like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail careers@icma.org or contact Frank directly at frank@frankbenest.com. Read past columns at icma.org/careercompass.


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ICMA – 2019 Nashville

Good afternoon IaCMA members,TTWNashville_FEATURED-800x440

I just wanted to take a minute to share the promo video for next year’s ICMA conference in Nashville October 20-23.  I am on the ICMA planning committee which met in Nashville a couple weeks ago and we’re putting together an awesome slate of sessions and speakers designed for cities of all sizes and the location speaks for itself.

Not that Nashville needs much promo, but this conference is going to be a really good one from all aspects: educational sessions, facilities, proximity of everything, nightlife, you name it.

So… as you begin crafting your budgets be sure to set some funds aside to attend next October.  Below is a promotional link to give you a taste of what you will experience.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1MLc4vA14mRH6oixmwbr07KAUSrDMwzqO

Have a great day y’all!

Steve

Steven T. Diers, ICMA-CM
City Administrator
City of Charles City


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Gaining Project Support, a free ICMA webinar

Gaining Project Support
from your team, elected officials, and public

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 PT (2:00 – 3:30 p.m. ET)

*** Advance registration required for this webinar ***
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1391547801580349698

Webinar Topics:
1. What’s key to presenting your idea or project effectively?
2. How can everyone play a role in leading and supporting productive change?
3. What can we learn from case studies about how to navigate and serve successfully?

Presenters:
* Paul Casey, City Manager, Santa Barbara, CA
* Anthony Lyons, City Manager, Gainesville, FL
* Hannes Zacharias, NACA President, former CAO Johnson County, KS

Post-Webinar Discussion Questions:
Many agencies organize groups to participate in the webinars (live or recorded) and discuss the topics among themselves after the webinars. Some are summarizing their discussions and distributing them to managers throughout their organizations. Here are some discussion starters for this session.
a. What are some important projects or initiatives that need support?
b. What strategies and tactics can help us present them and engage others more effectively?
c. What steps do we want to take?

Audience: all persons in or interested in local government
Meets Practice 2. Community Engagement, 8. Policy Facilitation and Implementation, 14. Communication and Information Sharing

More Coaching Resources–See http://icma.org/coaching for valuable resources to boost your career. Sign up for the complimentary email list at http://icma.org/coachinglist to keep informed of the details for future ICMA Coaching Program sessions and other resources.
ICMA Coaching Program Outreach Partners:
Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA), Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), International Network of Asian Public Administrators (I-NAPA), International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR), League of Women in Government (LWG), Local Government Hispanic Network (LGHN), National Association of County Administrators (NACA), National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA), and Women Leading Government (WLG)


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Career Compass No. 66: Lighten Up!

You should be pleased if your boss acknowledges your good work and values you. However, if you’re perceived as “too serious,” it is a problem. Here’s why.

For the past four years, I have served as the assistant director of finance for a mid-sized city. I oversee operations of the finance divisions, plus lead several multi-department teams. I also serve as the city’s budget officer.

I seem to be well-respected for my work by subordinates and peers. However, I have received some troubling feedback from the finance director. The director acknowledges that I produce very good work and she values me. However, she is concerned that I come off as “too serious.” She has apparently heard from staff in finance and other departments that I should “lighten up.”

Well, it is true that I’m serious and very committed to the work and results for our organization. The work in finance is very important and our organization cannot be successful unless we in finance do good work.

Since I want to advance in local government management, I don’t want to derail my career. Is this really a problem for me?


Why is “Too Serious” a Problem?

Our organizational cultures need more fun and playfulness for several reasons. First, all local governments face adaptive challenges (financial stability, homelessness, climate change, affordable housing, income inequality, opioid crisis) that confound our technical skills. To make matters worse, there are no right or wrong answers. (See Career Compass No. 65 FIO—The Key Competency for 21st Century Leaders). We need creative thinking to respond to these adaptive problems. However, in an atmosphere of “deadly seriousness,” it is difficult if not impossible for staff to be creative.

Second, we are in a war for talent. . .and we are losing the war. (See Career Compass No. 64: Ten Ideas to Become a Talent Magnet.) Increasingly, employees want a “cool” place to work and a more engaging, energizing, and even “fun” environment. Our organizational cultures in local government tend to be quite stodgy.

Third, if we are all about serious work and results, we tend to ignore relationships and the people who produce the results. Because people feel no connection with you, they tend not to follow.

Finally, we spend a lot of time at work. Shouldn’t we strive for a more fun environment for ourselves and others if we spend our waking lives at work?

While we cannot offer “beer busts” on Friday after work, free meals onsite, or other costly perks that are provided by high-tech corporations, there are other ways to promote a more energizing, caring, and fun environment. I will provide some examples below.

One caveat: As you struggle to find ways to generate a little bit of fun in the work, do not confuse perks with culture. For instance, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work is a perk. Texting an employee or writing a note of condolence after they had to put their dog down is about your caring culture.

Does fun mean less serious?

No. We can promote more fun in our work environments and still be extremely serious about our work and results. Here’s how.

How do you promote serious fun?

If you see the need to make some modifications in your behavior, don’t get hung up on the notion of fun. If fun strikes you as too frivolous, think of vital. So, how do you contribute to a more vital work culture?

Moreover, acknowledge that you are a role model. Since you are the assistant finance director, people take cues from you. If you are too serious, they become too serious. You, therefore, need to model some more playful behaviors as you tackle your serious work.

I have 11 ideas for you to help promote serious fun.

  1. Embrace the need to become less serious

Take the feedback from your boss to heart. We all need to modify behavior to get better at what we do, especially if we want to exert positive influence and achieve even better results for the benefit of all. Identify promoting fun as a goal on your personal work plan for the coming year and then commit to some ideas or activities to help achieve this goal.

  1. Become more self-aware

As Bill George affirms in Discover Your True North, leadership starts with self-awareness. Are you acting in ways that promote “deadly seriousness” and restricts the creative thinking of others? Monitor your interactions with staff and note in a journal the interactions and how people respond. Or, get some feedback from a trusted peer or colleague or coach.

  1. Flex your behavior

No one wants to change who you are. Leadership has many voices. There are many ways to exert positive influence. Having said that, you can always get better at leading by flexing your behavior.

For example, I have always been an “ideas guy.” I get very enthusiastic about big ideas to solve big problems. People tend to follow me because of my ideas and my willingness to take risks to bring the ideas to reality. However, I began to notice a growing problem. When I walked into a staff meeting and enthusiastically advocated my big idea, everyone else voiced acceptance of the idea and but then failed to follow me. By starting the meeting with my idea, I sucked all the air out of the room.

Therefore, I had to flex my behavior. I first asked several people in advance of the staff meeting to share their ideas at the beginning of the meeting. I also asked the least influential team members to start with their opinions. I even tried a round-robin format with everyone stating one possible idea to address the challenge before I proposed an idea. I got better at facilitating a problem-solving discussion so that by the end of the meeting I could summarize all the ideas and weave in my idea. Of course, my idea had become much better by the end of the discussion.

How can you flex your behavior to promote more fun and energy?

  1. Get personal

People won’t choose to follow you unless they connect with you on a personal level. So, try a few simple ways of connecting. Greet people in the morning. Walk to every office, smile, and say good morning. If members of the team are in remote locations, call them. Ask about their family or their weekend or their daughter’s soccer game. Share something about your family or weekend. Create a little rapport. Don’t start every conversation with work. (See Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak blog, “12 Ways to Get Serious About Fun”, Nov 13, 2014.)

  1. Take 5

To lighten things up and get to know your team members, you may want to create a new ritual for staff meetings. Start your staff meetings with the agenda item called “Take 5”. For 5 minutes, people can share a family anecdote or experience, discuss their weekend or a hobby.

During the Take 5 ritual, you can also create the habit of asking a team member a nonwork question that will create connection. For example, ask “what was your favorite toy as a kid?” Let’s say, you colleague answers, “A pogo stick.” You can then ask her some follow-up questions:

  • “What was it about that toy that you enjoyed so much?”
  • “What did that toy enable you to do?”
  • “Who did that toy allow you to become?”

The responses will help you and the group celebrate that person, give the other person time to reflect on their life story, and create connection. (See Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak, “On Chemistry Sets and Pogo Sticks”, May 26, 2018.)

  1. Use a little wackiness

Since creative thinking cannot occur in an environment of deadly seriousness, get a bit wacky. For example, if you’d like your finance team to come up with some creative solutions for a particular challenge, start by asking them to identify some wacky ideas and post them on the wall with post-its. Once people share their wacky ideas and laugh out loud a bit, ask for their not-so-wacky ideas (which will tend to be much more creative after a bit of playfulness).

Another way to promote creative problem-solving is to start a staff meeting by engaging the team in a creative game or exercise. For example, ask your team to brainstorm 20 diverse ways to use a brick. A brick can be used in construction, or as a design feature, or as a weapon, etc. (There are many books as well as online examples of creative games that stimulate creative thinking.)

To lighten things up and highlight the contributions of individual team members, you can also organize a “My Real Title” day. Ask all team members to identify one strength or added value that they contribute to the success of the team, and then ask them to post their “real title” on their office door or the entrance to their cubicle. You can also have everyone share their real titles at the weekly staff meeting. When we did this during my tenure as city manager of Palo Alto, California, my real title was “The Provocateur.” This simple activity was fun and enlightening and promoted self-awareness and the recognition.

  1. Partner with a fun champ

As Dan Rockwell advises in his piece “You Don’t Know How to Make Work Fun” (Leadership Freak blog, April 30, 2018), if you don’t know how to make work fun, ask someone who does. Rockwell suggests that you designate a chief fun officer for the month whose job is to surprise everyone with a simple fun experience or activity at least once a week for a month. Of course, you must support your chief fun officer and join in the fun with enthusiasm. Remember you are a role model for others.

  1. Celebrate achievement whenever you can

To reinforce good work, you want to celebrate achievement whenever you can. When the team accomplishes anything, bring a cake. If it is a major achievement, such as the governing board’s approval of the two-year budget, organize an ice cream social and invite all the department budget representatives as well as your budget team to the celebration. Celebration is fun plus it reinforces achievement and good work. I call it “purposeful partying” (you are partying with a purpose).

You need to celebrate not just at the end of the project but along the way as well. Oftentimes our projects in local government take a number of years to achieve. Therefore, people often lose motivation and momentum. To maintain motivation, it is a good idea to acknowledge and celebrate progress or achieving certain milestones along the way. (See Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle.)

Providing food and drink are always good ways to celebrate. Even without refreshments, you can simply lead a “clap-moment.” Clap-moments make people feel good.

When I was city manager of Palo Alto, I asked every staff group in the city to start each staff meeting with an item called “Team Acknowledgements and Achievements.” Or simply start any meeting with the question, “what’s working?”

If you organize mini-celebrations, it shows that you care about the people as well as the results. If people feel that you care, they tend to be more engaged. (See Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First Break All the Rules.)

  1. Have fun with awards

Since we often celebrate achievement with awards, have a little fun with crazy awards. For instance, celebrate big failures in the pursuit of excellence with a “Fabulous Flops” award. Or you can celebrate smart risk-taking by bestowing a “Turtle” award for “sticking your neck out.” Or recognize fun champs with a “Fun-Maker” award. Such recognition not only highlights desired values but promote fun.

  1. Create a fun budget

To subsidize picnics or other celebrations bringing the team together for a bit of fun, create a fun budget. The fun budget does not have to be exorbitant. Typically, fun is cheap.

  1. Do something unplanned

Spontaneity is good. You can do something fun that is unplanned. For instance, show up to a staff meeting with coffee and bagels for no reason at all. Just because.

Or on the spur of the moment, invite a staff person on a walk to brainstorm ideas about a project.

Serious fun is not frivolous

Promoting serious fun is not frivolous or distracting from real work. It is a key leadership behavior.

People will not follow you if they do not perceive your humanity, if they do not connect with you. You are concerned about results, yet it is through relationships that you produce results.

So, lighten up and lead the way.

Sponsored by the ICMA Coaching Program and IaCMA, Career Compass is a monthly column from ICMA focused on career issues for local government professional staff. Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA’s liaison for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California. If you have a career question you would like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail careers@icma.org or contact Frank directly at frank@frankbenest.com. Read past columns at icma.org/careercompass.

 

 

 


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Regions in action; meetings

Northwest Managers

The Northwest Iowa Managers group will be meeting in Spencer on November 16, starting at 11:30am for lunch – TBD. We have also invited the “NIMRODS” to our meeting, but would certainly welcome and invite any others that would also like to attend. Please let me know in advance of the meeting if you plan to attend so we have a better gauge on numbers as well.

Scott Wynja
City Manager
335 1st Ave. NW
Sioux Center, IA  51250
(712)722-0761
scottw@siouxcenter.org


The North Iowa Managers Group – “NIMRODS” (North Iowa Managers Rationalizing Out Dumb Stuff) will be holding our next meeting – December 7th at Noon in Humboldt.  We will be starting with lunch at:  Gordy’s at Rustix, 716 Sumner Avenue.  Following we will tour the newly opened Ken & Marilyn Nielsen Family Fieldhouse, located at 1501 Wildcat Road.

If you plan on attending or if you know you cannot attend please RSVP to Travis so we can start getting a headcount.  travisg@cityofhumboldt.org

Finally, also remember that the NW Iowa group has invited us to their November 16th meeting as well in Spencer.

Steven T. Diers, ICMA-CM
City Administrator
City of Charles City
105 Milwaukee Mall
Charles City, IA 50616
Ph: 641-257-6300


The Central Iowa Group is planning to meet this Friday, October 26.  Here is the schedule and location:
11:30 networking round-table (introductions, one big thing happening in your community, questions for the group)
12:00 Lunch
The location is set for Charlie’s Steakhouse, 1730 US-71, Carroll, IA 51401.
Please respond if you are able to make it so we know our total count. Thanks.

David Fierke
City Manager
City of Fort Dodge
(515) 574-9382

 

There now, wasn’t that easy and fun? Enjoy these meetings. What’s going on in your area?


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Career Compass No. 65: FIO—The Key Competency for 21st Century Leaders

ARTICLE | May 18, 2018

I am a fire captain in a mid-sized city in the west. The fire chief recommended me to represent the department on a multi-department team. Appointed by the city manager, the team is charged with addressing the growing problem of individuals or families living in cars and recreational vehicles. Oftentimes the people living in their vehicles have jobs and many of the kids go to school. The families just can’t afford the cost of housing in the region. Moreover, there are a lot of stakeholder groups (neighborhood groups, business associations, churches, schools, advocacy organizations) that are involved yet often in conflict about what to do about the problem.

The community services director is the chair of the committee and after the first couple of meetings asked me to serve as vice-chair. I don’t mind backing her up, but I know nothing of this complicated problem. I take a leadership role in my department, but I am uncertain and uneasy about helping to lead this multi-department team. I feel for these people and want to help the city address the challenge but I’m not comfortable taking a leadership role.


The problem of people living in vehicles, RVs, or on the streets is a big adaptive challenge. It is not a technical challenge where the solutions are known and can be addressed through management.

According to Ronald Herzberg and Marty Linsky in their book Leadership on the Line, an adaptive challenge is one where there are no right or wrong answers, each stakeholder group has its own preferred solution, and value conflicts abound. Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through leadership, not management.  Homelessness is a classic adaptive challenge.

VUCA

People living in their vehicles is a messy and contentious problem. The military uses the term “VUCA” to describe such situations. For instance, as opposed to past wars, the army is not fighting on the linear fields of Europe with mechanized armies against nation-states. Rather, today when the army sends a field unit into an Afghani village, it is difficult to identify the enemy combatants vs. the noncombatant civilians. The soldiers are not fighting on the fields of Europe but block by block, house by house. It is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It is a “VUCA” situation—just like your homelessness challenge.

Many of the contemporary problems that we face in local government—affordable housing, water shortages, immigration, poverty, economic vitality—are VUCA-like. They are adaptive challenges for which we don’t have technical solutions acceptable to everyone in our heterogeneous communities.

Veto Power

After writing his book Good to Great, Jim Collins spoke at the ICMA Annual Conference on his research about how corporations get from “good” to “great.” The city and county managers challenged Collins to explore how local governments (as opposed to business entities) could go from good to great. Collins took on the challenge and discovered that decision-making was strikingly different in the public sector. In fact, Collins identified that the defining element of the public sector (vs. the private sector) was that everyone could say “no.” (See Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors.)

Not only are you dealing with an uncertain situation, but every stakeholder group can block your committee’s efforts to implement a positive response to the homelessness problem. All these groups can “veto” your efforts. So, the leadership question is “How do we get to ‘yes’ when everyone can say ‘no’?”

To get to “yes” (or at least minimize opposition to a positive approach), your group must get out of the city silo, cross boundaries, and engage stakeholders along with the individuals and families involved. When you cross boundaries, you have no authority. That will feel very uncomfortable.

Learning Agility

You and your colleagues on the committee have a lot of technical knowledge and skills. For instance, I am sure that you know how to knock down a fire, help someone amid a heart attack, or inspect a commercial building for fire hazards. Since you and your city colleagues can’t solve the homelessness challenge with your technical expertise, you must get out of your comfort zone and explore a range of possible responses, none of which are perfect solutions for everyone.

You can leverage technical knowledge and skills in a stable environment. In an uncertain and disruptive environment, technical skills quickly become obsolete. Learn-how becomes as important as know-how. It’s all about learning agility.

So, how do you become an agile learner?

In her blog piece on March 15, 2018, “Why Learning Agility Is Key to Survive in Today’s Business World,” Rayi Noomega defined an agile learner as “someone who has the ability to learn new things and easily adapt to changes and make the most of it.” When confronted with new situations and realities, someone who is an agile learner will view the challenge from multiple angles and generate new ideas on how to respond with others.

To promote learning agility in your situation, you and your colleagues should:

  • Start a lot of conversations with affected parties (see Career Compass #61 “Leadership is the Art of Conversation”).
  • Reach out to other jurisdictions and organizations that are struggling with the same challenge.
  • Read a lot.
  • Brainstorm with everyone.
  • Identify a few options.
  • Try out one or several experiments.
  • Fix up the “solutions” as you go along.

Get Uncomfortable

Little learning occurs when you and your colleagues are comfortable. This team assignment is obviously a “stretch” opportunity for you to learn and grow. You must get uncomfortable if you are to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and lead.

Enlarge Your Team

You might want to enlarge and diversify your multidepartment team to include external stakeholder group representatives and several people who live in a vehicle or RV. As Google’s Aristotle Project discovered, effective teams that arrive at great solutions are diverse and ensure that there is broad participation. Team leaders need to ensure that there is “psychological safety” to disagree so that everyone is unafraid to share their unique perspectives.

Start a Series of Conversations

To identify the best or most acceptable approach for implementation, you must engage stakeholder groups in authentic conversations, ask questions, listen intently, incorporate their ideas where possible, address their concerns and fears, and generally get their “fingerprints” on the proposed solution.

Of course, you must be open to the conversation and be willing to consider different perspectives. As actor Alan Alda once suggested, listening and engaging another person in authentic conversation involves the “willingness to let the other person change you.”

As a leader, you must show in tangible ways that the conversation influenced your thinking and the proposal. Otherwise, the conversation is not “authentic;” it is merely talk. To influence others, you must let them influence you. And you must provide feedback to the other person about how the conversation changed your perspective or idea.

Typically, the most elegant solution or best idea to implement comes after any initial ideas are tested against reality, including available resources and political acceptability. It is an iterative process of testing out and morphing your idea as you discover the interests and concerns of other people. As everyone gets their fingerprints on the eventual solution, it becomes “our idea” and thus acceptable to most parties.

Take Smart Risks

As a result of these conversations, your larger team may then explore and consider any number of imperfect responses:

  • Provide portable bathrooms where the RVs and other vehicles park at night.
  • Partner with the county social services or a nonprofit to reach out to the individuals and families and provide available support services and any housing, if available.
  • Secure a safer environment where the vehicles could park at night; for example, at churches or temples, at the city community center, or at a VA facility.
  • Collaborate with the school district to provide sleeping quarters for families with children at the middle school gym.
  • Raise funds to purchase vouchers to provide discounted shelter at local motels.

Of course, the longer-term solution would be to work on promoting and building affordable housing for low-income working individuals and families.

To address this VUCA challenge, take some smart risks (as opposed to wild gambles). To take smart risks and make a difference for your community, you and your team colleagues should:

  1. Consider the risks only if they are important to you and align with your passion and values. If this issue is important to you and the community that you serve, you might be willing to take the required risks to pursue some of the solutions.
  2. Calculate the costs of doing nothing (status quo option). We typically ignore the costs of the status quo. What are the negative impacts to the community and the families who live in the vehicles if the city does nothing?
  3. “Ready, fire, aim.” It’s about getting things “roughly right” and fixing up the approach as you go along. There is no perfect solution in a VUCA situation.
  4. Use a respected sponsor. If you know the politics of your city council and your community, you might want to find a front-person or two to serve as sponsors. For instance, the police chief, the president of a neighborhood group and/or a minister might be a good sponsor for your effort.
  5. Spread the risk. By engaging several stakeholder groups and getting their fingerprints on the proposal, you spread the risk and minimize the potential for opponents to attack your staff team.
  6. Tie the change project to another initiative or investment already underway. You are more likely to secure support for your proposed solution if you tie it to an ongoing priority of the council or some other influential group. For instance, your solution might be tied to the council’s priority of supporting families, promoting great neighborhoods, or creating a safe community.
  7. Pilot everything. Even if what you propose is not an experiment, call it a “pilot.” A pilot suggests that there will be missteps and errors that you will learn from them to develop a better permanent solution.
  8. Take incremental steps and ramp up over time. You might want to start by providing a portable toilet in an area where the RVs and other vehicles park and then perhaps learn more by doing one-to-one outreach to identify what the families need. Taking incremental steps creates momentum. Moreover, any one action is reversible.
  9. Debrief experience as you go along. Doing post-action reports as you proceed (just like you do for a fire incident) allows you to learn what works and how to enhance your future efforts. For any debrief with your team, you want to ask three questions:
    • What is going well?
    • What is not going well?
    • What are we learning to enhance our future practice?
  10.  Seek guidance from your “dream team.” Since this is a messy and potentially contentious issue, you need to seek guidance and advice from formal and informal coaches. (See Career Compass No. 7: How Do I Create a Dream Team of Advisors and Career Compass No. 48: How Do I Benefit from a Coach.)

Embrace the Paradoxes

Leadership is not about your positional authority. It has nothing to do with your position. It is about exerting positive influence in an environment where everybody can say no.

To exert leadership, you need to embrace several leadership paradoxes. (See Career Compass No. 56: The Paradoxes of Leadership.) First, you need to go slow to go fast. To engage the various stakeholder groups and incorporate their interests or at least minimize their concerns, you need to take the necessary time to arrive at an acceptable solution.

Second, you must often pull back to push ahead. Again, your colleagues and coaches on your dream team can help you discern when you need to retreat from advocating for a solution that will not be supported until you modify the approach.

Third, only strong leaders can show vulnerability. (See Career Compass No. 32: The Power of Vulnerability.) Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know”, “I need your help” or “I miscalculated or made a mistake.” Only self-confident leaders can show some frailty or flaw. People won’t follow you unless they connect with you. Showing vulnerability promotes connection and thus promotes your leadership capacity. Remember, followers choose to follow (or not).

Develop a Growth Mindset

To address the homeless situation in your community, you and your team members must adopt a “growth mindset.” In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck indicated that those with a “fixed mindset” believe that their talents and abilities are fixed. They avoid new challenges because they are afraid to fail, and they try to do the same thing repeatedly because it reinforces their sense of competency.

Those with a growth mindset seek out new challenges, try out different approaches, and see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

FIO is the Key Competency of 21st Century Leaders

As you engage others in authentic conversations, incorporate different ideas and perspectives, try stuff out, fix things up as you go along and learn from your mistakes, you are practicing “FIO” (Figure It Out) skills. FIO is the key competency for leaders in disruptive times.

Responding to the homeless problem in your community is challenging and beyond your technical skills and expertise. Yet it is a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow and become a better leader. As John F. Kennedy stated, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Enjoy the leadership and learning journey.


Sponsored by the ICMA Coaching Program and support by the IaCMA Board, Career Compass is a monthly column from ICMA focused on career issues for local government professional staff. Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA’s liaison for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California. If you have a career question you would like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail careers@icma.org or contact Frank directly at frank@frankbenest.com. Read past columns at icma.org/careercompass.

 


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IaCMA Newsletter Information October 2018

Michael Schrock receives IaCMA’s Manager of the Year Award
IaCMA Press Release

Oskaloosa’s CSchrockity Manager, Michael Schrock, was awarded the Manager of the Year Award from the Iowa City/County Management Association (IaCMA) during the Awards Banquet at the Iowa League of Cities Annual Conference & Exhibit in Council Bluffs.

IaCMA’s Annual Manager of the Year Award honors chief administrators whose accomplishments and superior work performance represent the best possible application of management principles and whose creative contributions to professional local government management increases public awareness of the value of professional management to the quality of life in our communities.

Michael Schrock hit the ground running when he accepted his position in the summer of 2009. Known for his professionalism, hard work and ability to come up with new and creative solutions, he was nominated separately by his mayor and two of his peer city managers.

Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt stated on his nomination form “I consider the time we have worked together to be a blessing to me and the community. During that time, he has enacted numerous policies and practices that have enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of our municipality.”

The Iowa City/County Management Association was established in 1972 with the purpose of increasing the knowledge and abilities of local government managers and administrators, to promote the exchange of information between members and support the functions and aims of the International City/County Management Association. Additional information on the association can be found at http://www.iacma.net.

Congratulations to Michael Schrock for his work as a City Manager and for receiving the Iowa City/County Management Association’s 2018 Manager of the Year Award!

 The Iowa City/County Management Association’s Annual Manager of the Year Award honors chief administrators whose accomplishments and superior work performance represent the best possible application of management principles and whose creative contributions to professional local government management increases public awareness of the value of professional management to the quality of life in our communities.
 To be considered for the Manager of the Year Award, the chief administrator must be a full (voting) IaCMA member.  Candidates must be employed as the chief appointed administrative officer in a municipality.  Candidates must have overall management responsibility and be appointed or confirmed by the legislative body, the elected chief executive and/or the chief appointed administrative officer.

The Association’s past award recipients include:
2007       Mike Van Milligen- Dubuque
2008       Jim Prosser- Cedar Rapids
2009       Carol Ann Diekema- Monroe
2010       Jeff Mark- Altoona
2011       Bill Daily- Belle Plaine
2012       Tom Brownlow- Charles City
2013       Jim Ferneau- Burlington
2014       Elizabeth Hansen – Nevada
2015       Jessica Kinser – Clinton
2016       Jeff Pomeranz – Cedar Rapids
2017       Aaron Burnett – Keokuk