An M-Word Beat-Down

Posted on December 30, 2016

Benjamin Clark (Twitter) shares his take on the millennials (known by ELGL members as the m-word). Check out more of his work on Medium. Join the m-word conversation in the ELGL Facebook Group

Over on the ELGL blog posted this piece “Who do you want to hire? An m-word or Brenda?” Excellent commentary. Their post is a response to this video below.

The claim is that the millennial generation (m-word) is full of entitled brats. It’s the result, Sinek says, of bad parenting and poor leadership. Millennials were basically dealt a bad hand. It’s not their fault, it’s the older generations fault for screwing them up. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but I’m sure this was said of Gen-Xer’s as well.

This ELGL post points us toward the bright spot in Sinek’s diatribe of gloom. “These people” (millenials) are constantly seeking jobs where they can make an impact. But when it comes to job satisfaction, millenials are screwed because “There ain’t no app for that,” according Sinek. So what’s the rub, local government rocks for feeling an impact. As someone who has worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, a low-level functionary (and later as analyst and consultant) in a USAID-funded international development project, and as a budget officer for a local government, I see real benefits at the local level. I preach this to my students now that I’m a professor training the next generation of public sector leaders. I’ll get to a bit more of this in a minute.

Sinek also bemoans the participation medal culture of millennial. To say that this a phenomenon isolated to that generation and not others is complete BS. I have one trophy from all my sports days, it was from 1982. It was for soccer, it stands about 2.5 inches tall, I still have it today, and it was a participation trophy. Seriously, let’s get over this whole participation trophy crap already. It is meaningless. [Side note: my only real trophy I ever won was a first place prize in a lithographic photography contest as a senior in high school — it was several feet tall, topped with a soaring eagle. I still have this trophy somewhere too.]

Sinek also talks about the Facebook-Instagram loving/obsessed world of millenials. As a non-millenial, with lots friends and family members outside of that generation, do we really think that we are not a bit overly obsessed with these platforms? Sitting around the living room at Christmas, I could look around and see three or four people from the mid-30’s to mid-60’s all on Facebook or their phones doing whatever it is we do on our phones.

Millenials may be better equipped to use these technologies — which will be great for local governments. As a scholar who obsesses a bit about how government can better use technology to connect to citizens, the Millenials may be out savior. Many in prior generations would do the bare minimum to engage (what was legally required by state sunshine laws) and call it a day. This might have been an advert in the paper (that may or many not be in print anymore) and calling it a day (These are the Brenda’s the ELGL was talking about). If anyone is being irresponsible, it is those folks, not the millenials. Is it reasonable to ask them to put the phone down and get off Twitter during the staff meeting, yes of course, but they have access to networks and knowledge that many others don’t when it comes to putting people in touch with their governments.

I’ve had the pleasure to teach and work with boomers to millenials. There are entitled jerks in all of these generations. There are hard workers in all of them.

So back to why local government can rock for millennials.

  1. Public service is cool. It is even cooler at the local level. If you want to be closer to the decision-making individuals that is a whole lot easier at the local level. I was on a first-name basis with the entire county commission, mayor, city manager, and every director of every department in the local government I worked for (Athens, GA). When I worked in Washington, DC I was never in the same room as the head of USAID (agency we contracted with), I never met the president, etc. (I did see a few Senators and Reps on the street, but that doesn’t count.) Oddly enough I’ve met more parliamentarians in Tanzania than US reps.
  2. Work to results happen a lot faster at the local level. You can see the fruits of your labor so much easier. Working on federal aid projects I was never able to fully realize the fruits of my labor. Sure, I could see reports I wrote on the shelf, and know that some leaders might have read them, but that was as far as it when. I think the ‘biggest’ impact I could see was a the budgetary allocation to some countries as a result a report we wrote for the early stages of PEPFAR in 2003/4.
  3. Local government, in my experience, is a lot less pretentious and power focused. It is results oriented. The conversations I’d overhear on the Metro or on the street in DC often made my blood boil because they were so politically driven, not results driven. If you want to be a results-driven, data-driven, evidence-driven leader, do local. Sure there are people in local, like Brenda in accounting, that have been doing it that way for years and refuse to change. But the kicker is that the organizations are more flexible and more easily changed from within because of their size. You see the people you serve everyday, they are your neighbors, your friends, your family, they are you. I couldn’t always convince the management to change their ways, but at least I didn’t have to deal with a congressional sub-committee on asinine topic to get changes made. Nope the Honorable Representative from the great state of somewhere else won’t have a say here. You do.
  4. If you really want to be a change maker early on in your career, be a budget analyst. I’m biased, but this is what I tell anyone who will listen. You get your hands dirty in pretty much anything and everything your local government will do. You don’t have to love budgets, to love the access and insight it will give you — on day 1. My first day as a budget analyst I was sitting immediately sitting in the room with the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager, finance director, and budget director. I was in the inner circle from day one. This is not a power thing, but rather it gives you access to have an impact, have your voice heard, and be part of the change in your community.

Benjamin Y. Clark joined the faculty of the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon as an assistant professor in 2016. Dr. Clark had spent the last six years on the faculty of Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs. His research focuses on local government management, public budgeting and finance, and the use of technology to engage citizens in co-production.

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