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Uncut: ELGL Members Discuss the Past, Present, and Future

Posted on June 17, 2014


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Faces of the Future

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Connect with American City & County Magazine: Facebook, Twitter, and World Wide Web

Before you go any further, take a minute to read “Faces of the Future” in the June issue of American City & County magazine. A number of ELGL members provided their thoughts on career challenges, future of local government, characteristics of a good leader, and their proudest accomplishments. Due to space constraints, some of the responses in the article were edited and some of our members who responded did not appear in the magazine. Fear not, we’ve printed each of the responses in their entirety. It’s not too late to participate. Answer the four questions below and send them to [email protected] and we will include your responses in this post.

Special thanks to our friends at American City & County magazine: Erin Greer, Derek Prall, and Bill Wolpin

Ben McCready

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City of Rock Island, Illinois

Assistant to the City Manager

Benjamin McCready is a aspiring professional located at the confluence of technology, community, and organizational development. He is an advocate for multidisciplinary collaboration in solving the challenges facing local government. In addition to his professional duties he actively strives to connect other aspiring leaders with professional practitioners.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud

In 2012 I relocated to Rock Island, IL to serve as the newly created Assistant to the City Manager. Once I arrived it was evident that I would have substantial authority to grow and develop this position in the organization. I quickly set out to learning and navigating the expectations of my supervisor, peers, and myself. This was not without its challenges. Over the past two years I’ve been able to celebrate numerous successes but I’ve learned the most from failures. If there is anything I’ve learned it is that there is never a perfect time for anything, stay competitive and push yourself outside your comfort zone.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it

Someone observed that compared to antiquated methods of transportation, the speed at which a car travels prevents the passenger from observing and appreciating place. I think the same may be said for career growth. While many of us are driven to progress, we should not disregard the value of our current position. Cultivating leadership is a humbling process that should not be sacrificed for the sake of a title. I’ve learned to navigate the career path by building relationships so I may routinely connect with mentors and engage my peers whom provide fresh perspective, knowledge, and insight into my journey as a professional.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

I believe good leader must be adept at communications. By being able to communicate clearly a leader enables a competent team to be a successful team.  Communicating effectively is only part of the equation, a good leader must also be delivering a message which is goes beyond management catch phrases. In order to build a sustainable organization, a good leader must develop a culture and mission which resonates throughout the organization. Furthermore it is by managing relationships that a leader gains credibility and finds an audience that is receptive to the message.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? 

Aspiring leaders are challenged to think about where local government will be in ten years. It’s a challenge to overcome a reliance on antiquated policies and outdated infrastructure, however doing so will allow us to adapt local government to meet evolving demands and changing expectations. Change will always be difficult and that’s where leaders need to clearly develop and communicate the justification for their recommendations. If an organization struggles with change, they are going to hate irrelevance.

Kirsten Silveira

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City of Baltimore

Budget Management Analyst

Kirsten C. Silveira is a City of Baltimore (MD) Budget Management Analyst and Master of Public Administration student at the University of Kansas. She is passionate about well-run, well-served communities and believes local governments have an unparalleled ability to make a tangible impact on the lives of citizens.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud:

Being accepted into the University of Kansas Edwin O. Stene Master of Public Administration Program, number one among programs of its kind, has allowed me to set the tone for a successful career in local government. One of the highlights of the year-long intensive program is the part-time internship, through which I’ve been able to see how theory informs practice.  While obtaining my undergraduate degree, attending the KU program was a goal I aspired to and now I’m here!

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it.

During my collegiate career, I served as chapter president for Zeta Tau Alpha at Colorado State University. This position required me facilitate an executive council’s leadership of the diverse, 150+ member organization. At the beginning of my term, we were challenged to come together and reconcile different opinions, leadership styles and communication preferences. In order to ensure our success, I facilitated leadership development programming and focused on relationship building. This position posed a great deal of challenges; however, I believe it was a period of significant growth as both an individual and a leader.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

To me, a good leader cultivates an environment of growth and support, empowering  those around her (or him) to reach their fullest potential. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but a commonality between them all is an ability to have a vision, inspire others to commit to that vision and make a tangible impact on the community in which they serve. These individuals are compassionate, clear about expectations and actively pursue servant leadership.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? 

Communication is getting more and more complicated. Individuals on a team could be talking in person, emailing, texting, skyping, or using one of the other emerging modes of communication. To add to this, teams often have representation from multiple generations. I believe young leaders often come to the workplace with the flexibility and willingness to try new ways of communicating. However, it’s important for us to keep in mind that other people on the team might not share our same tech-savvy nature and, in order to be successful, we have to find ways in which all members are comfortable with communicating.

Ben Kittelson

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ELGL Project Manager

Metro Newsroom Staffer

Ben received an undergraduate degree from Willamette University and an MPA from Portland State University. He has been a project manager with ELGL since 2013.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud:

The accomplishment of which I’m most proud is the analysis and recommendation I made when I was interning at the City of West Linn. I examined the city’s commercial street maintenance fee to evaluate whether it should be raised and made a recommendation to the Economic Development Committee who adopted my recommendation!

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it.

The greatest leadership challenge I face, is something that I struggle with everyday at every organization I’ve worked at, being the youngest person in the room. Sometimes it’s hard for me to speak up (and be listened to) when I’m the youngest person at the table and I have such limited experience. It’s something I’m still working on but I deal with it by forcing myself to talk and building relationships with older colleagues.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

I think a good leader is confident, listens well, and communicates clearly. The leaders I tend to look up to the most are genuinely interested in what everyone has to say and then communicate clearly decisions and concerns that they have.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? 

I think the biggest challenge for young leaders today is being given the opportunity to prove themselves. The public sector is very risk adverse and has a lot of experienced professionals, this makes it hard for a young leader to find an opportunity to show what they can do. Without an opportunity to prove themselves it’s difficult to move up in an organization or advance professionally.

Anthony Hooper

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City of Lake Oswego, OR

Support Services Supervisor

Anthony Hooper is a first-generation college graduate with a BA from Willamette University and a MPA from USC.   After deferring law school to join Teach for America, he realized that public service was the only choice for him.  He is the Support Services Supervisor for the City of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

What is the accomplishment of which you are the most proud?

I am on the verge of completing a project to install LED fixtures on 1,400 streetlights.  The project was impromptu and was pulled together in a short time frame so as to take advantage of a new tariff that was passed by our local utility that allowed for LEDs.  After grants, it will cost $360,000 and be paid back in less than 3 years via energy and maintenance savings. The lights will last 20 years and will save the City $2 million over that period of time. The LEDs also promote safer roads, provide better color rendition, and discourage crime.

What is the greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it?

About a year ago, I was promoted into an unfamiliar assignment in a building across town.  I was suddenly a new manager in an environment where many employees felt overlooked and misunderstood.  My team was talented, but there were some conflicts between staff members.  The first month was challenging.  I soon discovered what they needed from me:  respect, loyalty, consistency, accountability, responsiveness, empathy, optimism, humor, and output.   I did my best, but sometimes fell short.  I spent a considerable amount of one-on-one time coaching them.  Eventually, the team created for themselves a culture of positivity and productivity.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

I strongly believe in “Theory Y” management and leadership as outlined by Douglas McGregor in the Human Side of Enterprise (1960).   The best leaders get out of the way of talented employees.  They believe that employees are intrinsically motivated and that they want to do top-quality work.   Great leaders create environments that allow employees to maximize their pursuit of purpose, mastery, and autonomy. The exceptional leaders are typically honest, logical, passionate, inclusive, inspiring, humorous, and confident.  In sum, great leaders seek input, have vision, hire employees for talent and fit, encourage employee development, and communicate openly.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why?

A trend that my Millennial peers talk about often is that Deputy City Manager and Assistant City Manager positions are being eliminated in communities throughout the nation as a result of budget cuts.   The consequence of this is that young leaders are not receiving the same chances to develop as previous generations.  There is more pressure for young leaders to jump to a City Manager position that they are not ready for or stay in a position in which they are not developing the skills needed to succeed at the top level.

Marc Nelson

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City of Roanoke, Virginia

Special Projects Coordinator

Marc Nelson currently serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for the City of Roanoke, Virginia. He has an MPA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has previously worked for the City of Savannah, GA and the State of North Carolina’s Office of Budget and Management.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud.

Recently, I managed an internal team of City Administrators tasked with crafting contracts and agreements associated with development of the City’s first new downtown hotel in over a century. The project is both ambitious and complex – construction of a 127 room Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel atop an existing six-story parking garage. The process lasted just over two years and included weekly meetings and extensive negotiations with the developer, as well as countless phone calls, emails and sidebar meetings with various members of City staff. In the end, the City and the developer entered into six different agreements that govern the development process. I am extremely proud of having played a key role in a project that will help further revitalize our downtown core.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it.

My greatest leadership challenge relates to the project referenced in Question One. Our team included just about every member of the City’s executive management team, including the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, Finance Director and City Attorney, as well as the Director of Economic Development (my boss). No one sitting in that meeting room each Friday was required to listen to me. But, leadership doesn’t have to be top-down in nature. In fact, “managing up” is a vital skill all young leaders should learn and master.

In this case, “managing up” meant being the backstop for anything and everything related to the project – serving as a repository for documents, keeping and maintaining razor sharp notes, attending and contributing to every single meeting or phone call, no matter how short or inconsequential. It also meant tailoring my approach to meet the individual needs of team members – i.e. providing updates to those who liked to be plugged in on each issue or letting someone know in advance whether it was really necessary to attend a particular meeting. Doing these things built up a sense of trust and reliability that proved extremely valuable when I needed something on a short deadline or called to discuss sensitive issues.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

A good leader is open and transparent in sharing information, even when they’d rather not be. Leaders are not immune to the tension and conflict that occasionally occurs in the workplace. But, an effective leader needs to avoid such pettiness to ensure all pertinent parties can make fully informed decisions that will benefit the organization.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why?

It’s vitally important for young leaders to be aggressive in seeking out the knowledge and experience that will equip them for future leadership roles. While much has been made of the impending wave of Baby Boomer retirements, many leaders from that age group are still relatively young, love their jobs, and do not plan on retiring any time soon. With leadership landscape being so crowded, younger leaders simply can’t afford to wait for opportunities to be presented to them. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. But, be prepared to back up your words if you do.

Matt Mueller

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Town of Little Elm, Texas

Town Manager

Matt Mueller is the Town Manager for the Town of Little Elm, Texas, one of the fastest growing communities in the nation.  Having served in local government for 15 year, he holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud

It is not one single accomplishment, but I am always very proud to see the success of my team members.  When I am able to contribute to the personal growth of an employee, either by hiring them for a position or helping them find a path to a position they are passionate about, I get excited.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it

I started in my first executive level position when I was 26, and a challenge that I have had to overcome has been my age.   Since that time, I have been tasked with managing people older than me, and in many cases, with many more years of experience who aren’t excited about change.   I realized that I had to earn their respect from my actions, not expect it because of my title.  In each community in which I have served, I was able to earn the respect of the employees under my scope of responsibility through open communication and follow through.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

A good leader is like the conductor of an orchestra. They are able to get the many different instruments of an organization playing their individual part with others to produce an outstanding result as a group.

 What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly?

I feel that the growing trend of social media as a communication platform is something that young leaders should pay much attention.  It used to be that you needed a strong relationship with your local media to communicate with the public, then it was important to identify the local bloggers, but now with the overwhelming growth of social media over the past five years, every citizen has a voice and a platform.  If you are not able provide a high level of transparency, clarity, and communication, the local social media groups can spiral out of control with misinformation.

Jim Lenner

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Village of Johnstown, OH

Village Manager

Jim Lenner has been the Village Manager for the Village of Johnstown since 2011. Located outside the Columbus, Ohio metro region, Johnstown has seen significant growth over the past 10 years and is well positioned to continue steady growth in the future.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud. I have been most proud of completing projects that increased the efficiencies of our staff. Although we have seen small increase in revenue, we have been asked to do proportionally more with less.  We have used our fund balance carryover in the last three budgets but have slowly reduced the amount without sacrifices in service or employee layoffs.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it.This is my first opportunity to be a leader of an organization. The typical migration up the management ladder was not in play for myself. I jumped from Village Planner to Manager quickly. My career goal was to be in a leadership position. My challenge was learning the technical aspect of my position but also how to be a leader. I continue to face the challenge of learning good leadership style and I have made mistakes. I learn from the errors of my leadership style and grow as a leader of the organization.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader? There are many attributes that make up a good leader. Knowledge, experience, tact, collaboration and risk taking are major attributes that I believe are the core to good leadership. A leader can be many things but there must be a desire to want to lead. You cannot put anyone in a leadership position and expect a good leader. They must want to be there and to make a difference in their organization.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? The major challenge for young leaders in government is the stigma of government lazy, incompetent employees. We often are ridiculed for actions of other government entities as well as other government employees. There are good leaders in the public sector that do great things everyday. However, one story of a bad apple in the government sector sets the rest back in the eyes of the public. I believe young leaders will look elsewhere for fear of the impact of unfounded negative public perception of government employees.

Bridget Doyle

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Village of Lombard, Illinois

Communications Coordinator

Bridget began work with the village of Lombard as a communications coordinator in 2013 after working for the Chicago Tribune. Bridget is graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. She grew up in Naperville and moved to the North Side of the city after college.

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud?

As a local government professional, I come from a unique background. I have an undergraduate degree in journalism and I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune my first four years out of college. At the Tribune, I worked with incredibly talented people, some with decades more experience. I am very proud of a recent nomination for both an Illinois Press Association award and a Chicago Headline Club Peter Lisagor award for a feature story I worked on with two other reporters last year.

More importantly, I am proud of my ability to collaborate with colleagues on projects and end up with a successful product or result. In my new role in local government, I’m working side-by-side with Department Heads and seasoned professionals with much more experience than myself. I am proud of my ability to work up to their level and garner their respect. I hope to continue to hone this skill.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it?

A number of times throughout my professional career, I have worked in places where leadership above me has changed hands. This can be difficult, as each manager has his or her own style and personality. Adapting to changes in leadership has been a challenge, both to understand new leaders’ expectations and communication tactics. How does this manager prefer to communicate? How often? What projects should I prioritize, and how often should I report to this manager in-person? This transition period can be a challenge, but well-worth the extra time put in to understand a new manager.

Another leadership challenge, especially for young leaders, is working on the same level with professionals who have much more experience. This is difficult, as there’s a need to show respect to your older colleagues while also gaining some of your own. I think the best way to gain high opinion from older colleagues is to first acknowledge their experience and seek their advice in times when it’s warranted. These people have knowledge that comes with years of work that we as young leaders just don’t. I think young leaders can receive more respect simply by tapping into this advice and acknowledging value in experience.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

To me, great leaders are great communicators. In both sectors I’ve worked in, leaders who can communicate effectively with their staff and make them feel valued are the most respected. Leaders should be able to level and converse with first-year interns the same way he or she talks to the top-level elected officials or executives. Even light, easy conversation in the break room or a morning “hello” makes a world of a difference to subordinates. Leaders who foster good relationships with their staff will get more loyalty to themselves and the company, even in times of tight budgets or hardships. In my opinion, managers who make personal connections will undoubtedly receive better work from their staff.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? 

I think leaders of today have a challenge ahead of them in terms of the future of technology and communication. Millennials in particular have been pegged by older generations as terrible with face-to-face conversation and instead reliant on technology. Those of us who grew up using the Internet and cell phones have to remember, as we advance, to hone our communication skills in person and over the phone. We must continue to sharpen our people skills and simultaneously stay conscious of proper technology etiquette. Except for casual emails, I hope young leaders avoid abbreviation and colloquial acronyms. We need to shake hands, look people in the eye and make a personal connection. I’m guilty of technology addition too – we just have to stay conscious of our use.

Michael Enloe

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TriMet

‎Project Manager/Facilities Designer

The accomplishment of which you are the most proud

One of the accomplishments I am proud of is being a member of a design team for a large transportation infrastructure project. The project spanned approximately 4-5 miles of freeway improvements, 5 new bridges, and two interchange improvements and multiple city/county street improvements. The design of the project was 5+ years and the first part of my career. It wasn’t your typical freeway interchange improvement project that improved capacity; it was a project that built safe routes to emergency services. The area commonly floods almost on a yearly basis which blocks safe routes to the hospital and safe routes out of town. This project helped provide roadway during weather disasters. I am proud to be a part of this project because I feel that it was a huge benefit to the local community in many ways.

The greatest leadership challenge you faced, and how you conquered it.

I believe that communicating effectively is a challenge that every leader deals with. It is something that I deal with and try to continually improve. The work force today has a vast age group difference creating a very large span of communication styles. One way that I deal with differing communication styles is trying to learn the preference of the individuals you work with and adapt to those styles. I recommend being flexible and using multiple forms of communication.

What, in your opinion, makes a good leader?

Good leaders are those who believe and know that in order to be successful they must promote and help others around them be successful. All too often we view “good leaders” as the individuals who are always leading, those who demand or think they are entitle to that leadership role, quite the contrary. A good leader is one that believes they are not entitled to or always grasps for that leading role (a good leader doesn’t presume that it’s their job to take charge every time there is a gather of people). Good leaders take the role that is required to make their team or the situation a successful one.  My belief is that a good leader leads by example. They change people and influence them to become the best versions of themselves. This thought of trying to improve others creates very efficient teams and higher quality products. I’ve met some good leaders and they are those who are always adapting to situations and constantly training to improve their craft. This constant pursuit of improvement is a key component in all good leaders.

What trends/issues/challenges (choose one) do you feel particularly apply to young leaders of today and why? 

A challenge that I believe young leaders will end up having to deal with is funding Transportation Projects. The challenge has been rising for quite some time and will only get worse with the main source of transportation projects being gas tax funded. A few of the difficulties with this issue is cars are becoming more fuel efficient and the growing trend to move away from gasoline as a fuel source for the automobile, not to mention that far less younger people are driving than their older counter parts.

Patrick Rollens

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Village of Oak Park, Illinois

Social Media Coordinator

Patrick W. Rollens works in communications and social media at the Village of Oak Park, Illinois. A recovering journalist, Patrick lives in Chicago with his wife Melissa, a public school teacher.

A recovering journalist, Patrick lives in Chicago with his wife Melissa, a public school teacher. On the future of government communications ­— We have a critical mass of tech-savvy residents who are active on social media. These folks do a great job of keeping the conversation going throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages. In the future, I expect to see more and more residents active in the digital space, asking questions and seeking resources from their local governments. It is vital for local governments to recognize this service area and devote resources to meeting these folks online. Every question answered on Twitter is one more phone call saved or trip to city hall avoided.

My role in the Communications Department focuses on social media and web publishing to tell Oak Park’s story in the digital space. As you might expect from someone with a background in journalism, I haven’t lost my affection for the good, old-fashioned press release – but it’s been given a new lease on life via the latest social media tools. I also handle most of the graphic design and layout tasks for the village.

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