A General Manager’s Guide: To Bringing Out The Best In Their Boards, Commissions, and Elected Officials

CATEGORY: Authored Articles
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
AUTHOR: T. Oliver Yee
PUBLICATION: California Special District's Magazine
DATE: Aug 08, 2019

Your job as a general manager or emerging leader of a special district demands that you provide strong leadership to your staff and boards.  When staff, management, and the board work in concert, everyone benefits. But how do you bring out the best in your boards, commissions and elected officials? Below are 5 guidelines for general managers on bringing out the best in boards, commissions and elected officials:

1. Exude Professionalism and Integrity

Effective leadership and ethics go hand in hand, and require good character, honesty and personal integrity. People follow willingly, and with greater productivity, if their leaders are people they respect. Remember – respect is earned, not bestowed. Always approach the relationship with staff and the board with professionalism and integrity.

 2. Set Clear Expectations for the Board Regarding Roles of Management and Staff

Vague and ambiguous expectations lead to confusion and inaction. Ensure that the board understands its role, the role of management and staff, and importantly, the expectations of the board of staff and management. When the roles of the board, management and staff are clear, objectives and goals are more easily attained.

3. Maintain Purposeful Communication with the Board

Purposeful communication is not random and does not follow a template. Consider the dynamics of the Board members and nature of the matter at hand when determining the effective medium of communication with the Board. Will a PowerPoint presentation help clarify the issue or will it just add more confusion? Does a one-page executive summary sufficiently explain a complex issue? Should a staff member with expertise provide information to the Board instead of you? Communicating with the Board takes many forms. Ensure that the medium of the communication is purposeful.

4. Stay Up to Date on Best Practices and Legal Requirements

A common first question that board members ask upon hearing a presentation is: what is the best practice surrounding this? Be prepared to explain best practices and legal requirements to the board when presenting a new policy or goal. Best practices are always evolving. So it’s important to stay up to date on what other similar districts are doing. Legal requirements also constantly change and evolve, see #5!

5. Don’t Forget That You Have Outside Resources

It can be a tall order to stay up to date on changes in best practices, the law, regulations and corresponding impacts on your district. Don’t forget that you have outside resources to turn to. Oftentimes, new laws come into effect at the beginning of the calendar year. So that is a good time to consult with legal counsel and evaluate whether there is a need to address new laws or changes in the law that could impact your agency and its operations. In addition, don’t forget that you’re not alone! Although you may be experiencing a nuanced and challenging issue for the first time, a consultant with expertise may have provided guidance on this same issue on countless occasions.

This article was published in the California Special District Association (CSDA)’s Magazine – July/August 2019 issue.