Survey Results: “If I Knew Then, What I Know Now…”

Posted on November 1, 2016

A few months ago, many of you completed the Local Gov Kit N’ Caboodle survey. This survey asked for your experience and thoughts on local government leadership. Jason Jones, Guilford County, NC returns with the first part of the results.

By Jason Jones – Twitter | LinkedIn | ELGL Profiles | Guilford County Site

Come and drink with me friends, as we dip our bucket into a well of local government wisdom and pour out generous portions. Or, as I’ve heard this referred to before, gander in awe at these juicy knowledge nuggets. Either way, I am here to provide an unlimited pass to the Golden Corral of local government management tips.

A few months ago, I solicited ELGL membership for their opinions on leadership, work culture, and managing relationships.

Before highlighting the findings, let’s take a second to appreciate the respondents. Over 340 years of experience and 19 different states poured into this knowledge well, and I appreciate the thoughtful responses.

“If I knew then, what I know now…”


Professionals use this phrase to indicate that they’ve gained wisdom or knowledge through a prior experience. If you could share one piece of wisdom you have gained through experience, what would that be?

I have summarized a few key nuggets. I can’t take credit for these suggestions, I can only throw the seeds your way hoping you will water them and allow them to take root.

Nugget 1: A fool’s errand would be speculating about what elected officials may say or do

This should be common sense for anyone working in local government with elected officials. It isn’t, and that is the problem. We know it is bad but you we occasionally do it anyway.

Nugget 2: Do things that make you uncomfortable, and sometimes, do them for free

This applies to work projects and also internships for the unemployed. It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of quality experience. I have heard people say frequently that you should volunteer for EVERYTHING. The counter is to be careful not to overextend yourself. Other than that, get out there and learn about something that makes you uncomfortable.

Nugget 3: Talk less, listen more. Genuinely take interest in what others are doing and learn from them

For some people this is easy, for others not so easy. It is not easy to park your thoughts and opinions and go for a ride in someone else’s.

I attempt to espouse this lesson by thinking about interpersonal exchanges as transactional. If the transaction is always imbalanced in your favor, eventually, no one is going to want to do business with you.

Nugget 4: Build relationships with people

You are thinking “duh” right now, but this was a response. Many of us float through each day generally unconcerned with the people around us. There’s a motivational group that says it best, “We’re here to make good things happen for other people”. End of story.

Nugget 5: Hire for attitude

imagesThis is self-explanatory, for those of us that have worked/dealt with employees with bad attitudes. It is an infection that WILL spread. Even extremely talented employees with bad attitudes can destroy morale. It is tough to interview for an attitude because it requires panels to collectively take interest in assessing the whole person, not just their ability to answer questions.

Nugget 6: “Not everyone in local government views public service the way I do”

Unfortunately, this is very true. Frustrations can mount, in general, when perspectives are out of alignment. In public service you are dealing with a diverse problem set and a diverse collection of stakeholders. This should be obvious but I tend to forget this from time to time.

Nugget 7: Government work requires idealism to be tempered by pragmatism

I wanted to end on this because it is a message, in whatever form, that everyone working in local government will hear at some point. When failure comes knocking I think this is great to remember. Where this can be dangerous, is when this becomes a prominent part of the culture and a general expectation.

In a nutshell, you shouldn’t get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Remain realistic in your local government endeavors. You’re dealing with numerous stakeholders and conditions largely outside of your realm of control. I strongly advise people new to the field to take heed. But, remember that our expectations can strongly influence our behaviors.

We bind ourselves within our own realms of possibility. If we temper our idealism with pragmatism before we even try or fail, then were we striving for the ideal to begin with? Your expectations matter, and if you are beginning with the expectation that idealism isn’t possible, you are negatively impacting your potential outcomes. I don’t want to tell you how you should interpret this, but I think I would regret not reminding everyone how important our expectations can be.

Didn’t take the survey? Changed your mind and have a different answer? Take a minute to complete this sentence.

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