In this series, ELGL members share initiatives, policies, and programs that are transforming local government. Sign up here to share your idea. Previously, Ethan Bagley wrote about addressing homelessness in Los Angeles and Nick Smith captured the community effort in Gaithersburg, MD.
By Alyssa Wolverton (LinkedIn and Twitter), City of Coppell, TX, City Manager’s Office
I’ve been part of the Coppell staff since June and I’ve quickly learned the fine “hum” of work-ethic, collaboration, and astute professionalism. The fine “hum” is the result of a number of initiatives. For this article, I am focusing one of the biggest influences — leadership.
He would not claim credit but City Manager Clay Phillips has instilled a high standard for city staff. From what I’ve heard, back in the day, Coppell’s organization had its struggles. There were many clashing opinions and ideas not only from council to administrators, but within the administration itself. Clay arrived as the deputy city manager and began working with Jim Witt, Coppell city manager. The duo integrated visionary tools like “the 4C’s of Coppell” which focuses on the adoption of technical, human, and conceptual competencies.
Currently, Coppell is abuzz with the news that Clay is retiring soon. After eight years of service, Clay is ready for another career adventure. Coppell is in good hands with current deputy city managers Mario Canizares and Michael Land. Each was worked with Clay and benefitted from direct mentorship, pursuing visionary tools, and amplifying the “hum”.
Coppell is ready for the expected and unexpected turnover encountered by local government. The city is ready in large part because of the SEED Academy.
Painting the SEED
The academy, in its fourth, year, is an in-house executive training guide. The Succession through Effective Executive Development (SEED) program has been successful in teaching, not only the soft skills and work ethic of leaders, but the culture of Coppell. Christel Pettinos, City Secretary, completed the program and felt it was like seeing the organization as a big picture for the first time. She started to understand the importance of jobs in other departments, and how she could leverage help and collaboration by using their specific talents and skills.
The academy could be called roots because of the executive soft skills that are taught to staff already in the organization. City leaders build a foundation of skills for leadership and harnessing the Coppell way of doing things. The year-long course has developed over 36 employees, and provides Coppell with talented professionals who want to exceed expectations for their colleagues, their bosses, and the citizens.
From an outsider perspective, it might be troubling to see a staff lose a great leader, but I don’t think anyone who has been in the academy thinks so. The current city manager has given the city the greatest gift one could ask for: a plan for sustainable leadership.
I am young in my career, and for me, this is good news. A program like SEED shows an investment in leadership and people. As government moves toward more contracted work (like Uber), or where people switch careers often, it might seem that a succession plan isn’t worthwhile. Imagine my relief to know as a “m word” (note: ELGL has banned the use of M*!*!*!*!) , working three jobs and going to school full time, that there are workforces investing in people. I will be especially thankful when my time comes to participate in the SEED program.
The Future Looks Really Good
I’ll end with this: what I know about Clay Phillips is very little. What I know about him came from my job interview with him. I remember it to this day. I remember the feeling that I got when I decided to go into public administration, bubbling up again in the pit of my belly. Clay cared about me and the profession.
Read this quote from him, and tell me what kind of leader this guy is: “God’s got something else for me to do, and I won’t know until I let go of what’s occupying all of my time.” He isn’t afraid of doing something unknown, or letting others take the reign. I’m not sure if a leadership academy can teach you to not fear the unknown, or tell you when you’re supposed to leave a career, but I believe that preparing leaders like Clay has in Coppell gets us in the right direction. The SEED academy is the tuner to the “hum”, and for future public sector professionals, it sounds really good.