Working With Me as Kent’s City Manager
After spending my first 16 years in the mid-Atlantic states, including working in the Washington DC metro area, where the council-manager form of government is well established and well respected, its been interesting to see the differences in how local governments are run and are viewed by their constituents here in northeast Ohio.
The Council-Manager form of government is the most common form of local government in the nation yet many people in this area are still relatively unsure how it works — they’re more familiar with Mayor-Council forms of government. Of course I’m biased but in today’s complicated regulatory, financial and operations world, I think hiring a professional to run your city government is the only way to go.
Over 92 million people live in cities that use the Council Manager form of government yet it remains largely misunderstood in this part of the country. I am often asked for insight into my political agenda and I try to explain that I don’t have a political agenda; I was hired by City Council to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the city government. I tell people to think of City Council as the equivalent of a corporate board of directors who hire me to run their $35 million Kent city business and lead some 180 city employees who serve Kent in thousands of ways every day.
My job is to help City Council understand the policy choices in front of them and to help them guide this community towards its strategic goals by making the right decisions at the right times. At the political level my job is more of a facilitator and broker of ideas. Council looks to me for advice and I use my professional experience to share insights that are the result of years of practice and training.
As the CEO of Kent city government, a big part of my job is leveraging and liberating the talents of our city employees. I subscribe to the theory that you hire great people and then get out of their way. But experience has taught me that system works best when everybody on Team Kent understands what the CEO expects and how he/she likes to work. With that in mind I shared my leadership beliefs with city employees earlier this year and I thought it might also help people in the community understand how I work and what makes me “tick.”
How I Work and What Makes me Tick
- Performance is always first.
- I consider it all of our jobs to make the city organization perform better every day.
- I work at being better at what I do every day and I expect everyone I work with to do the same.
- I set expectations high but I am patient in getting there.
- We have policies and procedures to help us do our jobs better – if they don’t we have to ask ourselves why we have them and if we need them any more.
- Individually we manage, together we lead.
- I consider department heads professionals and experts in their fields. I need their advice and I expect their counsel.
- I rely on the department heads to manage the day to day activities in a way that is consistent with the goals and values of our organization.
- We must always work set a tone of cooperation, collaboration and teamwork because people listen and watch us.
- My job is to make it easier for all of you to do your job better.
- I expect us to solve problems laterally first, vertically only after that fails.
- I’ll give you as much latitude as you need, I’ll support your decisions, and offer my advice when: 1)you ask; 2)I think something has ramifications for the city organization overall; or 3)when your decisions seem to contradict my position.
- When stating problems offer solutions.
- When making recommendations, bring options and choices.
- I expect our decisions to be based on data first, experience based intuition second.
- I expect department heads to look out for one another and to share ideas and concerns without being asked to do so.
- I expect department heads to receive input constructively and to be willing to consider different perspectives.
- I have my own 4H Club of values that I live by: Humor, Honesty, Humility, and Hunger (to get better every day).
- We have to be hard on problems but soft on people – unless people are the problem.
- I don’t believe in treating everyone exactly the same because we’re afraid of offending low performers. If we can justify treating people differently for clear performance reasons, we should do it.
- I like to ask myself, “if I was starting today would I do it the same way we’re doing it now?” If not, change it.
- Without data we’re only telling a story; prove it with data.
- Analyzing, planning and researching is our grunt work – we may not always like to do it but we can’t afford to be too busy – it’s our job to be prepared whether we like it or not.
- But don’t overdue analysis to the point of paralysis. Have a bias for action. If you have 70% of what you need to make a decision, make it and figure out the rest as you go forward.
- I hate ruts. I’d rather fail a thousand times trying something new than take the safe route and do things the way we always have because it’s comfortable.
- Don’t let yesterday hold today and tomorrow hostage.
- We need to balance decentralized functions around central strategies and a shared focus.
- We need leadership momentum, so help me push.
- We need short term wins and long term excitement, so help me incite.
- We need “can do” people.
- You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving.
- Rather than burn the toast and scrape it clean, let’s fix the toaster.
- Fail often and we’ll succeed sooner.
- We need to move faster and if we make mistakes let them be because we acted too quickly.
- We need to admit our weaknesses before we can fix them.
- Solving the problem is more important than being right.
- Being smart is more than just avoiding being dumb.
- Ignorance affords no protections from its effects.
- You’re not right because people agree with you but because your reasoning is sound and you’ve got your facts right.
- Try to leave room for fun at work; life is too short to be terminally serious.
- Bad news does not get better with age; keep me informed.
- Stay in the solution; when things go wrong don’t go with them.
- When you’re stuck with a hard problem, talk to all the smart people you know.
- Cheering works.