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Monday, April 4, 2016

Timing and Opportunity: They Matter

I felt I was so ready for the change - to become a parks and recreation director, but had started thinking that maybe it just wasn't in the cards for me. Every interview (if I got one) was ending with the same result; "it just doesn't seem like a good fit for us".  Right when I had pretty much given up, it happened.  I get a call from a City Manager who wants to talk about his Parks & Community Services Director opening (thanks to a strong recommendation from a colleague).  We chat briefly and he asks me to send him my resume and complete an application, which I do.

Then I wait.

And I wait.

If you've ever waited for something to happen (movie to arrive in theaters, package to be delivered, Red Sox to win a championship), then you know it can seem like forever to get any news . . . not just good news . . . ANY NEWS!  
I finally emailed the City Manager to ask if he received my resume and application (Do you need anything else?  Any questions?).  He said yes, it looked fine, and we should talk soon. "OK, when's good for you?"  We agreed to meet at City Hall for a very informal discussion. Two weeks later I'm in his office with him and the Assistant City Manager and, while the discussion was informal, it felt anything but informal.  It went well and I felt good leaving the building (almost a bat-flip moment after hitting one out).  He asks if I could attend a meeting to meet with the rest of his executive team so they can get a feel for my style and if there's a fit.  Of course!

Two weeks later I'm meeting with the executive team.  I want to seem confident, articulate, knowledgeable, friendly, and professional.  The City Manager asks me to introduce myself. Not one-minute into my spiel he says, "Andre, this isn't an interview."   Oh, OK.  So I do my best to shift gears and be a bit more casual.  I don't know how I did, but left feeling good. Afterwards a few of the department heads stopped me and said "hi, nice to meet you", including the Public Works Director who told me he hopes we get to work together.  Great! Now what?  The City Manager said he'd be in touch.

So I waited.

And I waited.

Now don't get me wrong, the City Manager is on top of things, but when you're anxiously awaiting news . . . any news . . . it can seem like an eternity. In the meanwhile, I'm interviewing for an executive position in my old department. Truth is, I didn't want to stay in that organization - I was ready for a new adventure and I think the organization needed a change, too. Meanwhile, I'm waiting to hear from the new organization - will they be my new employer or will this end as another disappointment?  Have they forgotten about me? Have they met someone else?  Did my meetings with them not warrant a bat-flip?  Had I unknowingly ruined my chances and didn't know it?  Did I have something in my teeth? What? What?  WHAT?!

Right before the holidays I get a call from the Assistant City Manager asking me something - I'm not sure what it was.  She asked me if I was excited. "Yes!" I replied, "I just wish I knew where I stood with the City Manager."  Not three-minutes after that phone call I get a phone call from the City Manager "I hear you're wondering about the position.  I don't want you going into the holidays wondering about this - you got the job."  Finally - I knew. I'm not alone in all this. If you've ever tried to get a job anywhere, you've felt the same anxiety and doubt. We've all experienced this.

Looking back, all the signs were there; I'm just too dumb to connect the dots and have some faith.  It was that way with my wife, too.  She pretty much thought I was an idiot before we started dating because she says I couldn't pick up on her signals.  She's right, I pretty much am an idiot.

Back to becoming a director.  I'd been trying for over five years to get a director's position.  I knew this agency was hiring, but when I saw the job posting months ago I dismissed it. "Too far to drive (takes an hour) and I'd rather work in the area I live."  The position never got filled.  The City Manager decided to going looking for someone and asked my good friend and colleague if he'd take the job. "No, but I know someone who you should talk to about it." Looking back, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  As much as I wanted to be a director, I just wasn't ready until the time came. Timing and opportunity are so important! And so are friends who think you have what it takes.

So to all those people out there who are wanting to make that career move, hang in there. Do what you need to do to prepare yourself.  Rehearse your elevator speech.  Write out your terminal and instrumental values . . . and know them. In my case it wasn't my knowledge, experience, or professionalism (or lack thereof) that were holding me back, I really believe that the right opportunity just hadn't come along at the right time.  Now that I'm here I'm so happy (one-hour commute each way and all).  And it's not what I thought it would be - it's better!  It's also early in my career here, so I'm sure things will get busy, hectic, and challenging, but I'm ready for it.

And about those 2004 Boston Red Sox . . . prior to 2004 they had always had talent, fan support, history, and a modicum of success, but even when they had it all, timing and opportunity were necessary to win that elusive World Series after an 86 year championship drought.  At least that's how I see it. Timing and opportunity - key ingredients that are necessary to make happen what you thought might never happen.  Or as my old boss always said, "when the stars align . . ."

And . . . . . . . . bat-flip.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Do You Want to Be a Director?

    Recently I visited another parks and recreation agency in the state of Georgia.  It was a very productive trip and I learned some things about best practices and leadership, which is one of the reasons I participate in accreditation visits.  On our getaway-day, the parks and recreation director drove us to the airport, and before we had traveled very far he asked me, "do you want to be a director?"  While I do, I found myself struggling to answer.  I've pondered this question more times than I can count, but for some reason I was put on my heels and started to down-play my desire.  I love the role I'm in right now with my current employer; I'm in no hurry to advance; I feel I still have a lot to learn; If it never happens I can live with that.  Perhaps I'm not director material.  When I finished he said simply, "Well, I think you'd be a great director."  I did not expect him to say that.  While extremely flattered I was also stunned.  In short, I was making excuses for not already being a director.
    At 54, I sometimes worry that my opportunity has passed me by.  When looking for a new director, I believe most agencies screen applications looking for those with prior director experience.  I have about four (4) weeks experience as an interim director - not really the type of time-on-the-job most agencies are looking for in their next leader.  I know what I'm good at and I rely on my staff to help me in those areas in which I'm not talented or proficient.  After 25 years in the field I know that most of the folks who work for me are smarter, better, and faster than me.  I truly love my work family - they get things done and make a difference in the community.  I believe I've has a positive impact on my staff and that's what I bring to the table.  I've tried to inspire, I've taken risks, I've admitted failure, I've tried again, I've put people first, I've set the tone, and I've shared my passion.  I truly believe I know the kind of director I could be.

    I've had a fantastic mentor in my director, Bob Johnston.  He's even-keeled, very slow to anger (in fact, in the 12 years I've known him I've never seen him angry or raise his voice), and he gets things done.  He's also a non-conformist - a creative-type who does things his way.  He's very knowledgeable and demonstrates good common sense.  He's not a brown-noser. While I'm an extrovert, Bob's an introvert.  He knows this and doesn't try to be something he's not.  In fact, he expects me to be the front guy most of the time, which to me means his ego is not a major driver in his being the director.  Have I had a great role model for what makes a great director?  You bet I have!

    In her blog article, 4 questions every leader should be able to answer, Alaina Love identifies four (4) questions regarding leadership qualities that really resonated with me: Who am I? What are my passions? How am I impacting others?  Where are my edges?  I think these are questions every leader, director, CEO, etc., needs to ask themselves, and if you're not there yet now is a great time to begin this self-reflection.  Read her article - it's well worth it.  Being able to answer her four (4) questions can better help you articulate your response if ever you're asked, "Do you want to be a director?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

9 Qualities all Good Bosses Should Have

    Few articles I have read sum up in such a short piece what I think being a boss should be.  While chapters and volumes and text books have been written on the subject, the brief article, "Being a good boss means doing the whole job," by Wally Bock, does a great job of getting to the point succinctly.

    I'm not saying being a boss, a leader, a manager, or a supervisor is so simple that all skills, theory, practices, and nuances can be described in less than 500 words - it can't.  But if you're looking for a place to start and information to help you get on track or back on track, this article could be very helpful.

    For me, this blog post was both affirmation of my style and approach, as well as a reminder that the development and evolution of being a boss is never ending.  Plenty to learn, including learning from my mistakes.  While a boss/leader/manager/supervisor needs certain competencies, here's a short list of qualities that all future and current bosses could benefit from:

  1. Be kind . . . always.
  2. Show compassion.  We all have issues and some have real challenges.  Treat them the way you'd want to be treated.
  3. Don't be afraid to admit you don't have the answer - chances are you're not the smartest person in the room.
  4. Don't be threatened by those who are smarter than you (you want those people on your team).
  5. Think globally.  While your staff will focus on their projects and responsibilities, you'll need to think about how those projects and what they do fit into the bigger picture.
  6. Pitch in where you can and show your support.  My staff really appreciate when I help with set-up, clean-up or in some other way as long as I don't get in the way or slow them down.  Often time just showing up to give my support is what they need most from me.
  7. Show your appreciation.  Saying thank you privately or publicly, giving a hand-written thank you card, or some other sort of recognition, can go along way towards improving an employee's morale and will make their day.
  8. Protect your reputation.  What you say and do matters.  Small indiscretions, careless words, or inappropriate actions can send a message that taints or damages your reputation, which could follow you in your career for years. 
    1. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently,” Warren Buffett.
    2. Be careful what you say and do; they are watching you and judging you,” Priscilla Cockerell.
  9. Lead.  You're their leader.  They want and expect you to lead.  This is not the same as telling them everything they have to do everyday.  Rather it's articulating the vision, helping them understand their value and purpose in the organization, and helping lead the way toward being successful.  Leaders set the tone.

    In short, don't be the pointy-haired boss.  Be the type of boss they deserve and that you'd want to follow.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Need Help? Leaders Know to Ask

    I work part-time teaching at Sacramento State University.  G (that's what I call her) is our department secretary and she is wonderful.  She gets things done, takes care of faculty and helps a lot of students.  My dad always said of his office secretary, "she runs the business, I just work here".  That's how I see G.  Knowing how busy she is I always try to avoid asking her for help or adding to her workload.  I'm just a part-timer, so I figure she has other things to take care of for other (full time) faculty.

    Recently, at a small get-together for a colleague's retirement, the retiree publicly thanked G for her help and devotion to the office and for helping him whenever he needed it.  I echoed his sentiments and then asked other faculty if they ever felt guilty about asking G to take care of things for them.  One person answered, 'absolutely' while others nodded.

    G sent me an email a few days later and here's what she said: "On Saturday you asked if anyone else in the room felt guilty when you ask me for help with something. Please don’t feel that way. I’m busy, but so is everyone else. Besides, it’s my job to help you and I’m happy to do it.  Helping you helps our students, and that’s why I’m here."  By not using G for things I need, I deny her the ability to do her job - to fulfill her position's purpose.  That makes perfect sense to me.  That said, I still get stuck on "am I giving her something I could easily handle myself " while trying to be sensitive to her workload and schedule.
    Nice guy, perhaps, but I failed in two areas. The first was in communication.  I'd always assumed she was too busy to help me, but never bothered to ask her if my need for her help was appropriate or an overloading her plate (turns out it is not). If I was really that concerned I should have asked her - even requested a time to talk so I could better understand what type of projects or tasks I could give her or the clerical staff.  

    The second failure was in delegating, but it's more than that.  One cannot simply view delegation as giving tasks to others, rather delegation should be viewed as giving others the opportunity to help you/the organization succeed.  By holding back on asking for G's help I did not allow her to help me succeed, which she clearly connected to an organizational goal when she said, " . . . it’s my job to help you and I’m happy to do it.  Helping you helps our students, and that’s why I’m here."  By not communicating I did not allow her the opportunity to contribute to my/our department's success, and by not delegating I devalued my role as an educator (which she values because of the positive impact it has on students).  

    In my day job I have several people are subordinate to me and I have no problem asking for their help because: 1) I want them to be part of our department's success; 2) I want them to gain experience and grow, and; 3) I genuinely need their help - often times because they have the knowledge or skills to do what I can't or don't know how to do.  I need to be able to do the same with G, as well as in other situations where I find myself in a leadership role.  

    In her article, Why Asking For Help Is One Of Your Greatest Strengths, Andria Corso says this ability "is a sign of great strength to not only admit that you are in need of help but also to accept help from others."  Trying to avoid burdening others demonstrates poor judgment and leadership; asking for help can be a powerful tool for including team members in the organization's success and is a strength that leaders need to develop.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Okay, Brain, Your Mine Now

  If you're like me you get stories in your head about people, situations and alternate realities.  In fact, if you're a human being (if you are not this is truly amazing) you probably do this a lot.  I have stories in my head about what friends, family and co-workers think about me.  I have stories in my head about social and professional situations where I imagine unfavorable or worst-case scenarios.  I even have stories in my head about what life would be like if I was unemployed, incapacitated, or left alone in the world.  The brain, even mine, is a powerful, imaginative machine, but there are times that it generates conspiracy theories and some pretty discouraging forecasts . . . or just seems to mess with us.

    In the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree, in the post How to Stop Worrying, the author reminds us that our thoughts are not reality.  "Just because we think it, doesn't make it true."  These thoughts distract us from the here-and-now.  We drift off into thoughts and theories that undermine our real life situation instead of paying attention to the world around us and being present - being mindful.  My real life situation isn't perfect, but I do love my life - all of it - so why would I allow myself to entertain these negative, unreal thoughts?  Eric, the blog post author, provides a list of strategies to help you stop worrying and start being mindful:
  1. You are not your thoughts. Sometimes they’re downright ridiculous. Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
  2. Observe, don’t judge. Acknowledge the thoughts, but let them float by. Don’t wrestle with them.
  3. Don’t distract, immerse. Do not check your email for the 400th time. Take in the world around you. Turn to your senses. That’s real. Your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself about the world aren’t.
  4. Note or label intrusive thoughts. Yeah, the thoughts fight back. Acknowledge them. Give the intrusive ones a funny name.
  5. Return to the senses. Really pay attention to the world around you.
    As the author points out, being mindful takes effort and practice, but it's a fairly simple and easy to remember list, so it's doable.  

    I'd like to add one more step.  Avoid picking and choosing which thoughts to let go.  What good will it do me to work on some negative thoughts and misconceptions, and not be willing to set myself free from all of them?   You and I need to recognize when that thought is not beneficial to us and/or those around us, and apply one or more of the above tactics to stop worrying and be mindful.  Ready?  Here we go . . . 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Me Version 5.0: Time for an Upgrade

    I'm overwhelmed, but I'm pretty sure no one knows it.  I try not to let on that I'm unhappy with my self-discipline and lack of focus.  I simply am not the recreation superintendent and educator I want to be. Everywhere I turn (in my office and with my schedule) I feel that I can't make any significant headway.  Every good intention seems to be thwarted by my own disorganization, stacks of things to read, and desire to handle work projects and obligations with professional efficiency and mastery.  In short, this sucks.  I suck.
    Don't get me wrong, things are great at home and with my health, but this current version of "me the professional" is not cutting it.  It's not the jobs - I love what I do.  I have great staff/co-workers who do great work.  My students are great and are very responsive in class and in the work they turn in.  My boss is supportive and happy with my performance . . . but I am not.  I know I can do better and, just like I'm typing this with only two-fingers, I know I am not making the most of my time, resources, and basic organizational skills.

    Wally Bock's Leading Yourself: A Baker's Dozen of Things to Master provides a simple list of actionable things I can do to help move myself into a more productive, efficient, and engaged mode professionally.  I know this will take time and that new habits must be practiced (30 days for it to really take hold and 10,000 hours of committed practice to demonstrate mastery), but I don't want to look back a week from now, a month from now, or a year from now and say, "If only I had started back then . . ."  It's going to take time to get organized and practice to stay organized, but like Walt Disney said, "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing,” and “The secret of juggling many responsibilities is organization."
   Let's get started . . . . 

Sunday, July 20, 2014


In my Brand+Aid blog article, Six Helpful Hints to Get Your Social Media Up and Running, I talk about how we developed a team approach to social media management in my agency. It wasn't something that we implemented overnight.  It took time and we learned as our strategy developed, experiencing both successes and failures, but always trying to do it better and efficiently.  And it's been fun - a necessity if anything's going to keep my interest for the long haul.

For me, learning how to use social media involved trial and error, reading articles and books, and attending educational and training sessions.  Another great source is YouTube videos.  One of my favorites is The Social Media Revolution.  This video makes a compelling case for businesses, like parks and recreation, to use social media.  This link is for the 2014 version, but you might enjoy some of the earlier versions (my favorite is from 2010, but that's because I love the rockin' soundtrack).
Another really good video was produced for a government agency in Victoria, Australia, that we've simply . . . 'borrowed".  Like them, we use it for staff training for social media in the workplace.  It's brief, engaging, and high quality.  In my agency every employee is asked to watch this video, participate in a discussion about social media in the workplace, and sign a social media user agreement.  Signing the agreement is not required, but necessary if they want to participate on our official Facebook department newsfeed, which is our ongoing department newsletter and is well utilized.

Social media isn't going anywhere.  It will continue to grow and evolve.  Leaders need to come to grips with that and use it to their advantage as opposed to avoiding it and banning it from the workplace.  It's the next step in the evolution of communication. Those who resist evolving run the risk of becoming obsolete and irrelevant.