Leadership Inspires Greatness in Today’s Parks and Recreation Industry

By Barbara Heller
In January 21, 2017

I often think about leadership. The quality of leadership, the profound influence leaders have on organizations, how employees expect too much from their leaders. I work with organizations that demonstrate great leadership….an agency determined to create more engagement from employees….to an agency that demands accountability from staff through rigorous strategic direction, work plans, and a commitment to key performance metrics. I also work with agencies in which employees feel disengaged, underutilized, and broken from too much culprit mentality from their leaders. Why is it that some leaders do so well while others can’t lead their way out of a box or get out of the way?

I think about how leadership competencies have changed, even from the last decade. In times of old, (which I know all about), leaders were taught coaching and feedback techniques, communication skills, delegation skills, and more. While these skills still remain extremely important, there are other higher level competencies required for today’s leaders.

Skills such as creating strategic direction, leveraging technology to improve services, using data for decision making, driving change and innovation are all important to master, yet these strike me as less developed skills for most leaders. How do you drive innovation in your organization? How do you manage change? What are the ways you measure organizational performance?

Strategic direction involves risk. It involves risk because it is a pursuit of a direction that is at the expense of other initiatives that cannot be pursued because there are limitations to what an organization can pursue. How are your strategy skills? Do you have a set of strategies in place, from strategic plans and master plans, to facility business plans and divisional and employee work plans? Do your staff meetings focus on the minutia of the day to day, or is there adequate discussion focused on the more strategic elements of the organization. What if your meeting agendas had a topic area of strategic direction listed on the agenda, and there is actual discussion about strategic direction, rather than spending four meetings discussing the merits of allowing employees to wear jeans to work.

The use of data and using data for decision making is one of the most under-developed competency for park and recreation agencies. Organizations do a great job capturing data, but a poor job using performance results to guide decision making, or to simply help tell the story about the benefits of the agency. Dashboards showing real time performance of key metrics continues to grow, but still has a long way to go.
When I ask employees of organizations how they feel their organization is performing, they will say, we are doing well. When I ask the follow up of how do you know this, the response is that we know that because our customers tell us all the time we are doing a good job. The anecdotal responses I hear are a result of a lack of performance metrics used in the organization.

Change management is another competency that is not deployed effectively. The American Productivity and Quality Center did a study researching the effectiveness of change management in organizations. They found that one of the mechanisms common to organizations that manage change well is the need to have a framework or template that outlines the change process. Having a documented framework for managing change helps to reduce mistakes and increases the likelihood of success for major change initiatives.

Innovation and public sector have usually not thought of as being compatible. But, that has changed in recent years. The desire for innovation is now prevalent. Almost every agency I work with in the development of strategic plans desires to become more proficient in developing innovation as part of the organizational culture. Yet, innovation seems to be a somewhat elusive competency based on my experiences in consulting. Innovation, in order to be successful, must occur at all levels of the organization, there needs to be system alignment in support of innovation (performance appraisal, reward and recognition, recruitment, hiring, and promotions). One of the key elements of innovation is having an idea generation process in place.

The greatest gift leaders can make is to instill deeply imbedded competencies in the areas outlined. In order to achieve success staff training is necessary. However, it requires more than training. The culture of the organization and the way leaders lead must also be aligned with the competencies mentioned. If an employee desires to learn more about innovation, only to return to his/her workplace and go back to reporting to a micro manager, the gift of training is lost.

Leaders everywhere owe it to their agencies and to themselves to continuously grow and adapt to the changing level of sophisticated skills needed to supervise employees today. As a start, take a look at the competencies mentioned and determine what you need to do to become more skilled in these areas. Your employees will thank you for your efforts.

...is determined to give government a good name - one agency at a time. Her innovative approach to the planning process has delivered results in organizations across the U.S.

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