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Five Types of Bad Local Government Bosses

Posted on July 18, 2019


bad bosses

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Kirsten Wyatt. Connect with Kirsten on LinkedIn & Twitter!


ELGL very purposefully uses positive examples of leadership and management to tell stories about local government service. This aligns with our vision to amplify the good in local government, and our mission to engage the brightest minds.

It’s also just common sense: much like your dog or child responds better to training with treats and love than with punishment and anger, we fundamentally believe that showcasing the good is better than dwelling on the bad.

Except…

Lately I’ve wondered if all of this joy can make people who are working in challenging environments feel even more isolated. It’s the phenomenon of, “is everyone hanging out without me?” but applied to workplace culture.

Is our celebration of the good, isolating those of us who are working with the bad? Are we fostering a worry that you’re doing local government wrong?

In an effort to reassure that you are not alone if you’re working in a less-than-great environment, I’ve assembled five caricatures of bad local government bosses.

These are archetypes that I’ve observed – not based on any one person, profession, role, or personality but an amalgamation of some bad traits that seem to coalesce around certain types of bosses.

These bad bosses are out there, in every department. If you’re stuck working for one – it’s not you, it’s them. If you ARE a bad boss, spend some time reflecting on how your behavior affects your agency, and especially how it might affect the overall local government field. Here we go:


The Screamer

  • Skips conference and professional development sessions on empathy, emotional intelligence, and self awareness.
  • Reads newspaper and blog comments and assigns work and projects based on the anonymous comments.
  • Wonders why everyone is out to get them.
  • Hires staff that won’t push back or rock the boat.
  • Reacts to inevitable local government setbacks and challenges with an eye-popping, red-faced rant to the nearest professional staff member.

The effect: you’re driving talent out of the profession because you treat people like garbage. Every time you scream at someone, a future local government leader dies.


The Waffler

  • Skips conference and professional development sessions on data, performance measurement, and process improvement.
  • Desk is a virtual graveyard where great memos and recommendations have gone to die.
  • “This meeting could have been an email” is whispered outside their office.
  • Takes an average of four weeks to make a hiring decision.
  • Reacts to inevitable local government setbacks and challenges with committees, study groups, and more meetings.

The effect: you’re driving talent out of the profession because you’ve sucked all of the fun out of public service because you won’t act on big ideas.


The Big Brother/Sister

  • Skips all conference and professional development sessions – too busy networking!
  • Wonders why ELGL won’t add a golf tournament to their annual conference.
  • Puts their feet on their desk during meetings with you – “I’m not your boss, I’m your friend!”
  • Hires staff based on an “awesome conversation” with someone at a conference mixer.
  • Reacts to inevitable local government setbacks and challenges by golfing with the mayor and tossing a little stress ball in the air 1,000 times and chatting.

The effect: you’re driving talent out of the profession because it’s exhausting to balance being your friend and also your staffer.


The Blob

  • Skips conference and professional development sessions on employee engagement, change management, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Can’t understand why some people want to change jobs, get promoted, or move organizations every couple of years.
  • They’re doing the same job, the same way as when they started their career.
  • Hires staff that look just like them.
  • Reacts to inevitable local government setbacks and challenges by waiting it out because that’s what worked 10 years ago.

The effect: you’re driving talent out of the profession because you’ve made the exciting work of local government so. damn. boring.


The Ghost

  • Never skips a conference or professional development session. Also attends regional meetings, workgroups, and every service club luncheon.
  • Thinks “management by walking around” sounds tiring.
  • Hasn’t stepped foot in the library/operations center/rec center (really, any non-city hall facility) in at least 18 months.
  • Routinely understaffs because they just don’t see the need for positions.
  • Reacts to inevitable local government setbacks and challenges with a closed office door.

The effect: you’re driving talent out of the profession because you’ve provided no guidance or perspective on what leadership looks and acts like – you’re never there.


Which archetypes did I miss? What additional bullets or effects would you add to the five I’ve listed? Tweet at me and let me know!

Did you read this and think “this is SO NOT my work environment?” Nominate your local government for Meagle Award for the best local government workplaces!

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