Messy in the Middle

Posted on November 23, 2021

Nellie - The Office - What is going on?

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Greg Anderson, Management Analyst & Grants Coordinator, with the City of O’Fallon, Illinois. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.

  • What I’m currently reading: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • What I’m currently watching: Succession
  • What I’m listening to: Human album by OneRepublic

Managing and leading a team is challenging. It often seems like the best leaders overcome challenges, motivate their teams, and drive results with ease. These leaders are our role models. They are the City Managers and Directors with long public service tenures. They have seen and done it all. They understand the ins and outs of local government management and have the superhero cape ironed and ready for the next public crisis.

The shoes that they fill are the roles we aspire to be in. With dedication, perseverance, and purpose, it is one day certainly possible.

Here is the reality of the situation, or at least the reality I am feeling today: managing and leading a team from the middle can be more challenging. Simply put, it is sometimes messy, confusing, disappointing, hard, and tiring. Our perceptions of the work that we do and the communities we serve can become clouded. Our priorities may seem much smaller than the bigger picture. It can feel isolating and sometimes we need to be reminded that we are not in this alone. But what happens when the reminder comes too late?

There are much better options than distracting yourself from the issue at hand. It may be the perfect time to step back and reflect on who you are, what you value, and where you’re going.

Find your purpose so you can continue to grow as a local government superstar.

In The Ethics Challenge: Strengthening Your Integrity in a Greedy World, Bob Stone and Mick Ukleja write that “embracing your purpose transcends your job. It’s who you are as a person. It involves your vision for your life, your picture of what you want your life to represent. It includes your core values, the internal qualities that assist you along the way as you accomplish your vision. It includes your organization and your job, but it’s bigger than both. It is your point of view and it shapes your life. Successful leaders of widely differing personalities, skills, and styles follow this principle. They have pre-decided what they hold as a non-negotiable rather than making it up as they go along.”

Most leading organizations have a strategic plan that does more than sit on a shelf. They are carefully crafted with feedback from elected officials, leadership, and the community. The plan outlines ambitious goals and strategies that are implemented to deliver efficient services and promote a high quality of life. The mission, vision, and values are at the core of the plan and act as the foundation for our organizations.

Just like the organization, we too need to be clear about what success looks like and how our values will lead us to where we want to be.

Bob Stone and Mick Ukleja also write that  “being explicit about what personal success means ensures that our long-term focus counts more than our short-term instincts. Becoming clear on what our targets really are creates clarity of thought and action.” The process of creating a personal strategic plan will differ from one person to the next. There are endless books, webinars, and podcasts. Do what works best for you. Our role models had to start somewhere too.

A central focus in my personal strategic plan is on the “integrity gap” or the distance between what we say we believe and how we actually behave. Identifying our beliefs as individuals and leaders supports the alignment of our internal qualities with our core values. When I’m feeling confused, disappointed, or isolated it serves as reminder to redirect that energy into actions that intentionally close that gap and serve a much better purpose. It is much easier to anticipate your next steps when you move away from making it up on the go. My list of values and who I aim to be sits next to my computer monitor at the office and at home.

Your plan will help you find clarity during tough times and guide you from the occasional mess in the middle to the future leader you set out to be. And if you ever need a reminder that you are not alone, send me a message.

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