I Have to Ask: Why Are You the Way You Are?

Posted on March 11, 2019

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Erika Harper (Twitter & LinkedIn), Public Information Officer for Town of Mead, Colorado,  writes about the person who most positively impacted her career.

Erika HarperLast fall, and as an elective for my master’s program, I enrolled in a leadership communication course. I went in with a preconceived notion of what it meant to be a leader: an innovative genius…a nose-to-the-grindstone boss…someone like Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos. Right? Actually, no. Creative? Yes. Determined? Absolutely. Great to work for? Thank you, next.

What does it mean to be a true leader?

I believe, and judging by the number of leadership-focused books I’ve managed to accumulate, others also agree, that a true leader motivates individuals to be their best selves. A leader makes themselves vulnerable and welcomes feedback. Great leaders are compassionate and have a high level of emotional intelligence. They encourage learning and growth. They are self-aware. They trust.

A true leader is a Nick Bergus.

What’s a Nick Bergus?

Oh, I’ll tell you. (Insert sinister laugh to freak Nick out a bit.)

Nick BergusNick Bergus is the sarcastic, fun-loving, incredibly skilled and thoughtful communications director for the City of North Liberty. I first met Nick in 2009; I had returned to the Iowa City area after a two-year stint in Chicago. You see, after I completed my undergraduate degree, I decided to move to Chicago to pursue a career in video production. I was passionate about documentary-style video, and I lived for editing and transcribing video. However, after a couple years, I had had enough of the exhausting, and expensive, life of Chicago and returned to the city that I adore: Iowa City.

Now, in case you’re wondering, a full-time – with benefits – job in video production isn’t the easiest to come by in Iowa. I’m not going to lie, I floundered for a bit and I felt defeated at times. In the months following my return, I held down a part-time job while hunting for my next big career move. Instead, I landed an unpaid, volunteer opportunity in local government. (Go, me!)

While I was doing video production work for the City of North Liberty, I had zero intention of building a career in local government. (Again, I was actually a volunteer.) However, after a few months, a full-time position opened with the City of North Liberty, and of course, I took it. I wasn’t selling out (at least that’s what I told myself); I needed a ‘real’ job, and this ‘real’ job would do…for the time being.

Fast forward. I spent six years in that job and only left for my wife and the advancement of her career. What? How? Why?

WDND: What did Nick do?

Nick opened the door to my career in local government, but that’s not all. He did so much more than just offering a job to a 20-something looking for direction. It’s clear he saw something in me that I couldn’t see at the time. I mean, I walked away from my interview with the City of North Liberty thinking I had blown any chance that I had.

From there, I became the local-government-loving person I am today.

OK, we’ve established that Nick is a great leader. Beyond that, he’s passionate about building relationships and bettering the community through outreach, transparency, and creative digital media. He and his team have worked tirelessly to build effective communication channels like POP, the Public Opinion Panel.

I regularly look back at my time with North Liberty to “borrow” ideas, like when we produced a short video series called FaceNick to explain city happenings, initiatives, and the basics of city operations. FaceNick perfectly represents Nick. He’s not afraid to be a buffoon for the greater good. During my time with North Liberty, Nick was always game for whatever I, and my colleagues, schemed up. A real team player. Nick knew, long before I realized it, that local government needed to think outside the box to effectively reach residents – not an easy task.

As the communications team, we prided ourselves on making the city seem approachable. As noted in a local newspaper, “Keeping things relaxed, loose and fun ‘puts a friendlier face on the city.’” Even without me (don’t worry, the department’s still staffed with some of the best), the North Liberty communications teams continues to draw the attention of residents, community organizations and surrounding cities – much larger cities with greater resources, but lacking that Nick Bergus magic.

Often, I think, “What would Nick do?”

At this point I should say, we didn’t always agree on everything. At times, we had spirited debates and brainstorming sessions. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there were moments of mumbling under my breath. However, I knew his feedback was well intended and that each challenge came with an opportunity to learn something new, see a different perspective and to grow a better understanding.

So, who’s impacted my career the most?

Today, I’m the Public Information Officer for the Town of Mead (Colorado), and without Nick’s guidance, kind words, friendship, and yes, annoyances, I wouldn’t be here. He taught me to find fun, engaging ways to communicate the often-dry information that is local government. He made taking creative risks a must. He emphasized the importance of open and honest communication. He showed me that team work is about collaboration, listening and laughing.

Nick opened my eyes to the critical role local government plays in our daily lives – something so often ignored. Nick taught me that we, local government professionals, can and must do better. Most importantly, Nick taught me how to trust, respect and build up the people around me – to be a leader. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Close window