August 2022

Be Who You Say You Are

by Rolly Dessert

Standing in front of the public works employees, a new city manager introduced herself. Joan intended to visit the workforce in their departments, inspire them with her vision, communicate her expectations, and take their questions. She spoke for ten minutes and called for the first question. Dave from buildings and grounds asked, "With respect ma'am, what are you gonna to do to save our jobs?"

She quickly responded, "I'm not going to save your jobs, you're going to save your jobs by coming to work every day prepared to do your very best to deliver excellent results." Joan took several more questions, gave closing remarks, and departed. She thought the session went well but she worried, "I only have one chance to make a first impression, and I may have missed the mark."

Driving back to city hall, Joan took time to reflect on her journey to this new role. She recalled her first meeting with Mack, her current deputy and a US Navy veteran. It was five years ago, at an International City/County Management Association Annual Meeting. She had been an assistant city manager with two years on the job. She and Mack sat together through a presentation on "A Culture of Performance Excellence." Joan's boss assigned her to lead a key initiative called "High Performing Government" focused on "delivering an efficient, innovative, transparent, effective and collaborative city government." The initiative was the basis for changing some programs that were long overdue for improvement. Joan gained a reputation as an agent for change and she shared this experience during the rounds of interviews for this new job as a city manager. Joan caught herself and began to refocus, saying, "That's all in the past and not helpful. Right now, I need feedback on my response to Dave's 'save our jobs' question."

As Joan got closer to city hall, she recalled key conversations with Mack shortly after her selection as city manager when he raised some important issues. The city council was anticipating lower tax revenues due to a recession and some were talking about a leaner city government. Mack also mentioned rumors among employees to which Joan said to herself at the time, "When a new boss shows up at an organization, folks get anxious about what's going to change. I need to gain their trust."

She smiled as she remembered Mack's counsel when she shared her personal leadership philosophy, "Your core values reveal who you are."

When Joan arrived at city hall, Mack met her at the door. Seeking feedback on the presentation, she said, "Mack, you heard my pitch. How do you think it went?"

Mack said with a whisper, "To be honest, your answer to that first question creates a problem for you. Would you like to know why?" Mack's tone and demeanor suggested the need for privacy. They walked into her office and sat down at the table.

Mack looked at her, smiled and said, "Thanks for asking me for feedback. It's the most important tool you have for improving your skill at communicating. You'll never know if you achieved your intention unless you ask for feedback. But that presumes that you have a well-formed intention."

Mack paused and waited a few seconds to let that observation sink in before starting to continue when Joan responded, "Okay, Mack, I get your point." Joan continued, "and I will admit to not having formed a clear intention for my session with the public works team. What should I do about it now?"

Mack opened a folder and placed his copy of Joan's personal leadership philosophy in front of her, saying, "You shared this with me on the day you arrived. I was impressed by your clarity about values, principles, expectations and priorities, and telling me what kind of a leader you want to be. But your example is crucial. You should be who you say you are."

Joan paused a few seconds, smiled and said, "Okay, Mack, you're right. I want you to clear my calendar for the next hour. I need to go visit Dave at buildings and grounds, re-address his question, and share my leadership philosophy with him."

Mack said with a smile, "Yes, boss."

The lesson we learn here is that an effective communication starts with a clear formulation of intention on the part of the leader. This is the importance of the Personal Leadership Philosophy, which is the leader's compass and the cornerstone of all Academy Leadership programs. The Leadership Philosophy is a powerful communications tool because it is the result of deep reflection about what you believe. It identifies the values, priorities and expectations that will guide your leadership journey. In preparing to speak to an audience a best practice is to read your Leadership Philosophy before delivering the remarks. Click here to download sample leadership philosophies for your consideration.