Many years of working with leadership teams in vastly different contexts has taught me a lot about what we don’t say.
It has been said that it’s lonely at the top. It isn’t always easy to find someone to talk to, as an equal, about the things that keep you awake at night.
Sometimes it’s hard for leaders to admit where they are struggling.
There are many avenues for determining how and where to improve efficiencies, but few for advising and guiding on the practice of leadership and fewer still to help leaders link organisational performance and their own style (am I part of the solution or part of the problem?).
I think the problem is exacerbated in Councils, particularly regional councils. Leaders are known in the community. Visibility is high, often in local media, and dare I say it, the role of the CEO or GM is frequently tested by the alignment (or lack of) in elected representatives of the community.
Attracting the order of talent at the executive table is often hard (who wants to work out here?) and there is limited capacity to entice prospects with salary packages. Instead, we must engage talent by talking about the quality of life, job flexibility, a great place to work and, indeed, raise kids.
Unfortunately, all too often the very reason why a GM or CEO is looking to refresh or recruit an ELT member or entire team is that the problems both within the council and in the broader community are undermining the very things being promoted as a reason to come and work in the region (it’s a bit of knowing/doing gap!). For example:
Councillors are critical publicly of the work council staff are doing and at odds with each other; there is little joy in leading in this context.
There has been high (frequently exceptionally high) turnover in the top role and trust is eroded in leadership – I came, I tried, I left – the rotating executive door.
Staff feel they are carrying the load and are angry and frustrated that their perspectives aren’t being heard. Cynicism and functional divisions will greet any new leader and hope turns to scepticism quickly.
So, if anything is ringing a bell here (you are dealing with this right now or have dealt with this), then here’s my best advice.
Regional communities will have an enormous opportunity to attract people in the next decade; who’s going to want to live in the city given the conditions that are likely to emerge in the next decade.
We have to answer the prevailing question: How do we make it attractive for talent and potential residents to make the shift when we have so much that we need to change
Create a safe space for GMs and CEOs to talk to each other – buddy up – lend a helping hand.
No one has all the answers; experience is worth its weight in gold (good or bad)
Don’t isolate yourself with your problems – CEOs and GMs in communities like yours (size and challenge) are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Others are highly likely to (a) be a bit ahead of you or (b) be a bit behind you; either way you can help
Don’t use not having money as a reason for not investing in your people, leadership, and culture; stop doing something else so you can do this; hear from successful CEOs and GMs what they are doing; it is often counter-productive spending a lot of money on infrastructure and nothing on the leaders and people who have to optimise this investment.
Connect your leaders of people and culture to leaders in other councils – share best practice.
We are on a mission to help as many of you as possible. If you are struggling to know who to link with, reach out and we will give you some options.
At the Dattner Group, we acknowledge First Nations people both here in Australia and around the world. We thank First Nations people for the countless millennia of teaching, caring, learning, leadership and culture, and we pay our deepest respects to the wisdom of Indigenous people and custom past, present and emerging.