In times such as these, many people still have a feeling that public sector employees are overpaid, underworked, and (frankly) untouchable. The reality of public service is they are not. Coming from the private sector 12 years ago to the public arena, I vowed never to forget where I came from. I even keep an old uniform shirt from my life as a garbage sorter on the back of my office door. It calls to me some days and reminds me everyone has value and potential.
When I came to work for the City, I thought I had it made. I shared the opinion of the uniformed about light workdays, high pay, and the promise of a forever job. Boy was I wrong! The days were filled with hours that never seemed to end and work from unyielding sources. Being the fifth largest city in California there are many expectations to a city employee. When the bubble burst, the whole game changed.
I am sure you in public sector work know what I mean. More with less became the battle cry, and should have been hung from the city hall flagstaff as a standard for all to see. There too opened a new door of possibility…. THE OUTSOURCE. It was subtle at first but soon became center stage for all to see. It started, with our very tiny divisions and has continued on to what is arguably “core services.” When a game changer comes along like a sacred cow that no one would ever think to touch, you become entangled in a conflict, which can consume a manger.
The hardest thing to do is to stay true to yourself, your staff, and to your administration, all while balancing the tightrope of customer comments and complaints. It is possible to manage through these though times and even to be present at the end of what some would call a legacy. However, when confronted by such a task it can tear at the heart of you. As a manager in the midst of the turmoil, I would suggest a piece of advice (I wish I had taken) stay neutral when you can. You may feel as if this position is in itself wishy washy, but it is the hardest place to be and only the strongest can maintain the stance. Everyone is watching you.
A book I recently read called the Invisible Spotlight – Why Managers can’t hide (Katz, Wasserman, 2011) puts the concept into perspective. The authors say that we as managers are the subject of “the dinner table” whether we like it or not. No matter what your management role the challenges are potential growth moments with opportunities to know yourself better. Remember to look around and take note as you see others who are stepping up through these tough times. Amazing people are a motivator. Surround yourself with them and leadership is less about direction and becomes more about service to those who do amazing things right before your own eyes.