Are you a leader or a manager?

This article, by Management Partners CEO Jerry Newfarmer, first appeared in PA Times.

Ronald Reagan was a classic leader, someone whose soaring rhetoric and vision inspired both followers and critics. Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was a true manager who viewed the presidency as a series of problems to be solved – a vision that was too narrow for some critics and refreshing for others.

Politics aside, if you head an organization – whether it’s an information technology (IT) department, a city government or a county agency – you probably identify more closely with one or the other, seeing yourself as either a natural leader or a born manager. Even though most people lean in one distinct direction, the success of any organization depends on competence in both roles at the top. Managing and leading require different skill sets and mindsets. Knowing the difference and striving to improve in both roles will help your own personal performance and that of your organization.

The best leader has well-developed management skills; the best manager has well-developed leadership skills.

A leader is a big-picture person, the human side of a successful organization. He or she sets the tone, shapes the environment, establishes goals and motivates people. Leaders often can imagine an alternative future for their organization and work to make it a reality. A manager makes sure the processes of the enterprise function well. He or she takes the tools at hand and uses them to accomplish results and enforce accountability for the team. Managers tend to like their visions written down and posted on a wall so they can check off accomplishments and measure their progress.

Leadership has emerged in recent years as a more widely admired trait. We value those who can inspire others to achieve. Management, on the other hand, has gained a negative connotation as the tedious practice of making other people do something they may not want to do. But a detail-oriented manager who loves process and performance measures can still inspire others to dream big and accomplish much. And a leader who generates tons of exciting ideas won’t be very successful unless he or she can translate them into concrete action. Staffers in any department or agency will do best when they report to someone who excels at both leadership and management.

As John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and authority on leadership, explains in his collection of essays called “What Leaders Really Do”:

The point here is not that leadership is good and management is bad. They are simply different and serve different purposes. The fundamental purpose of management is to keep the current system functioning. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change, especially non incremental change. It is possible to have too much or too little of either. Strong leadership with no management risks chaos; the organization might walk right off a cliff. Strong management with no leadership tends to entrench an organization in deadly bureaucracy.

The secret to being more effective is to know your own tendencies and work harder on the things that don’t come naturally to you.

If you’re a born manager:
Leave the to-do list for a moment and think instead about the image you’re projecting to the people you work with. Employees will take their cues from their leader’s behavior: an accessible, approachable leader will encourage employees to do their best, while an aloof leader who seems to sit around issuing edicts can drag down an entire enterprise.
Set aside regular time to think about the big picture for your organization. Where do you want it to be six months from now? Five years? Figure out what’s holding it back and brainstorm strategies to move it toward your vision.

If you’re a natural leader:
As you’re generating great ideas, follow them with the business processes needed to enact them. Who will take responsibility for carrying out your innovation? Include them in the planning and see how they can improve your idea or offer constructive criticism of it.
Go back and do a post-mortem on an initiative that didn’t work. Did the idea behind it miss the mark, or was there a lack of execution? Use the example to create a plan to execute future initiatives, or you’ll risk being seen as someone who can’t turn an idea into reality.
Find a few people on your team who are in a position to give you honest assessments. Some leaders tend to get carried away with their own enthusiasm and can benefit from a reality check. Avoid those who are consistently negative, but find colleagues who can give an honest appraisal so you’re sure to consider all angles.

Whatever your innate instincts are, you’ll be most effective if you let them shine and also push yourself to develop the stuff that doesn’t come naturally. Whether you’re a natural leader or a born manager, the people you work with and the organization you work for need both your leadership and your management skills to be successful.

Texas City Management Conference: Social Media Strategies

Management Partners Special Advisor Linda Barton attended the Texas City Management Conference earlier this month and sent this report.

The topic that continued to emerge in sessions was the impact of social media. The concept of social media is relatively new, but the impact has been enormous. There are instances where individuals have lost their jobs, elected officials have been recalled and organizations have been thrown into chaos due to rants on social media. There were sessions on ways that public organizations can effectively use social media as well as minimizing negative impact if backlash starts toward the organization or toward individuals. Even more important was the number of times speakers in numerous sessions talked about how a variety of issues escalated due to the social media discussion.

Very few cities have a social media policy that apples to the public. More, but still few, have a social media policy for employees. Most of the principles of a policy are common sense—no anonymous posts, no personal attacks, no profanity, no threats. If these behaviors occur, the public organization indicates they will remove the post from their site.

In cases of attacks on sites not owned by the city, it was recommended that responses be factual and in sync with organizational policies. If the comments are positive, it is important to respond and thank publicly. If the comments are negative but a common issue, acknowledge and respond, which shows that the organization is listening. If the complaint is specific to an individual or small group, the recommendation was to publicly request a private meeting with the individual. Sometimes, in the case of outrageous comments, others may address it on your behalf and you do not have to say anything. But, never engage in negative emotion, be concise and be strategic.

Building Financial Resiliency in Governments

On June 3rd I had the good fortune to address a large audience at the Government Finance Officers Association’s 109th annual conference in rainy Philadelphia, during a session entitled “The Resilient Government.” I joined Bob Eichem, Chief Financial Officer of Boulder, Colorado, and GFOA’s outgoing president, and Mike Bailey, Finance Director of Redmond, Washington, to discuss the different strategies finance professionals can use to promote financial resiliency in their organizations.

Panelists discussing financial resiliency at the GFOA conference.

The ability for a local government to anticipate, react, and bounce back from major impacts has been a key theme for GFOA this year. President Eichem convened a task force to define resiliency, identify helpful tools and techniques, and establish best practices to help local governments be better prepared for major organizational changes. The research and findings of the task force were published in the April 2015 Government Finance Review and provide a good overview of the ideas that can promote flexibility and preparedness.

My part of the conference session focused on long-term financial planning and the critical role that multi-year forecasts play in understanding and preparing for potential impacts. A well-planned process, with thorough analysis and clear links to organizational strategy, can provide a solid foundation for local government to plan for disruption and make strategic resource allocation decisions. Part of my presentation highlighted the use of scenario modelling to determine the potential impact of external changes and allow policy makers to discuss contingency plans and priorities, by seeing what impact different external changes would have on the bottom line.

The outcomes of using a long-term planning process are manifold. It helps officials understand the current financial condition, diagnoses unrecognized or little-understood problems, build the case for action, and promote developing a mix of strategies to respond to crisis. It has other, related benefits as well, including building trust with citizens and imposing discipline on the decision-making process.

Later this year, GFOA will be publishing best practice guidelines generated by the Resiliency Task Force, which I served on.

Rod Gould joins Management Partners

Rod Gould, whose award-winning career in local government included stints as city manager of Santa Monica, Poway, San Rafael and Monrovia, is joining Management Partners as vice president for management, based in the firm’s West Coast office.

Gould will assist West Regional Vice President Andrew Belknap in a range of responsibilities, including the management of current projects, development of new projects, and recruitment and development of new associates. Management Partners assists hundreds of local governments across the U.S., including many in California, with projects that include performance management, strategic planning, organizational analysis and financial forecasting.

"Throughout my career in city management, I have been consistently impressed with the quality and utility of Management Partners' work,” Gould said. “I’m eager to join such a committed and expert group of management consultants dedicated to excellence in local government, and I view it as another stage of service."

Gould most recently led Santa Monica through a successful recovery from the recession. Highlights of his five years in office include large-scale capital projects, advanced sustainability measures, a 20 percent reduction in the homeless population, improved infrastructure maintenance and preservation of the city’s AAA bond rating.

“Rod brings an outstanding background of local government service to Management Partners,” said Jerry Newfarmer, President and CEO of the firm. “He learned about the quality of the work that Management Partners can do for a client first-hand by being a consumer of our work, and we are thrilled that he is joining us to help other local governments.”

Prior to his service in Santa Monica, Gould served as City Manager in Poway, San Rafael and Monrovia, and as Assistant City Manager in Walnut Creek, California. Before his career in public service, he was a Senior Management Consultant with Deloitte, Haskins and Sells in consulting. He has a BA from Yale University in economics and political science and an MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard, as well as many professional awards from his time in local government.

Management Partners is a professional management consulting firm specializing in helping local government organizations improve performance. The firm’s clients benefit from the expertise of professionals with extensive experience in all aspects of public management as well as knowledge of how the best jurisdictions in the country provide services. Management Partners was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, with offices in San Jose and Costa Mesa, California.

San Bernardino moves forward with bankruptcy plan

City Council members in San Bernardino, one of only a few American cities to declare bankruptcy in recent years, approved a plan this week to resolve its fiscal problems. The plan was prepared with the help of Management Partners, and it comes ahead of a May 30 deadline to submit such a plan to U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The plan has been covered extensively in local media, especially by the San Bernardino Sun's Ryan Hagen. This story looks at the plan's details, this story explains a session to build support for the plan and this story explains the City Council vote and what happens next.

The Atlantic's James Fallows has also written about San Bernardino, explaining the factors that contributed to its bankruptcy. In this story, written just before the City Council vote, Fallows explains why what's happening in San Bernardino matters even to people in cities not facing fiscal distress.


"The fiscal model has given us a powerful long-range planning tool to help guide us through the development and housing downturn we are currently experiencing. The variety of data inputs and number of different variables give the model an unlimited number of potential uses." - Kerry Breen, Assistant Finance Director, City of Brentwood, CA

© Management Partners, Inc. 2011