The local government management profession is grounded on the concept that managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and that they, to the best of their ability, reflect the elected officials’ desired outcomes for the communities in their managerial and organizational direction.
We hold it to be truth that if the governing body changes, and it, in turn, wants a managerial change and is willing to abide by the terms of an agreement regarding separation and severance, then we hold up our heads, load up our families, and go on to the next challenge.
We even have an idiom associated with this occurrence: “In transition.”
On paper, this principle and this phrase sound noble, even laudable. In life though, it hurts. Anger, fear, and frustration are felt. Hard conversations with family and friends are held.
Self-doubt creeps in. What should I have done differently? Why did I not see this coming? How could I have prevented this?
A manager might commit a decade or more of his or her life to a community. Sacrifices of family and personal time—and sometimes even health and relationships—are dutifully given and through careful stewardship, progress is made.
In time the electorate gets perhaps a bit complacent and before long, the council changes. For no other reason than, “You have been here too long” or “Nothing personal, we just want our own guy,” the manager is looking at uprooting kids from school and a part- ner from a job or a career. This might also include putting a cherished home on the market—perhaps at a financialal loss—and moving on.
Giving Each Other a Chance
In my current governance-related role, I often see the precursor to the in-transi- tion phase. Either the elected of cials or the manager senses that relationships are amiss and a job is at risk, and I am asked to provide education on good governance in the hope that by understanding roles, the relationships can be mended.
When I discover this is the case, I try to shift the emphasis of the training from roles to communication or from good governance to just giving each other a chance. The fact is that too many times
I see good elected of cials and good managers get crossways over matters that should never rise to the level of moving on.
In this age of total online capture, almost anything that gets said, texted, or tweeted is preserved and scrutinized and used as fodder for one position
or another. He said/she said is now online for all, and often it hurts on many levels.
I do dearly believe that a good governance system provides the framework for elected and appointed of cials to work together for the better- ment of a community. Just as any team needs a roster, a position process, and a playbook, so too does local leader- ship need to understand who does what, when, and why.
Not many of us received group process training in graduate school, and in many cases, just understanding group dynamics and getting groups to agree on how they can correct member misbehav- ior can be incredibly healing.
It takes courage and valor for a manager—or an elected official for that matter—to risk an intervention, but the reward in terms of role satisfaction can be huge. If it appears that the conclusion is foregone, then the effort, even if not successful, can be viewed as skill build- ing for the next time.
If you nd yourself worried about the latest election or turnover of elected officials, I encourage you to reach out immediately and repeatedly to the new members. Yes, they may have preconceived notions about you, and they may have said hurtful things, but closing them off or avoiding them only validates their misunderstandings.
Demonstrate up close and one-on- one that you are a person of integrity with the same love of the community they hold. If they rebuff you—and they likely will at least once— nd another approach, including a friend in common or a person of stature in the community to host a meeting. If it takes hiring
a professional trainer, that is a small investment compared to the cost of a managerial change.
I also encourage managers to reach out to their professional net- work. It is okay, even a manifest sign of maturity, to share with a trusted colleague that you are nervous or fearful about the relationship with the governing body. We have all felt that way, and in my experience many of us are feeling that way now.
Simply having a safe environment to share the emotion can lessen it dramatically. Your colleagues can help you see the image in the mirror more clearly than you can on your own.
At the end of the day, if indeed you are involuntarily moving on, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did all you could reasonably do, and you will have gained valuable skills in the process.