City managers are a unique group. They are all Type A personalities. They all have a need to control what’s going on around them, and, if they are smart, they should all learn how to play nice. That’s probably where most of them fail.I must disclose that at my first newspaper job, I worked in a town where the mayor was known for taking young town managers, fresh out of school, and developing them into some of the best city managers in the state.
Just out of school myself and covering the city beat, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of those young managers were close friends of mine. After leaving my hometown, they went around the state to places like Woodfin,Wrightsville Beach,Mount Airy, Apex, Mooresville, Fletcher and Laurinburg. These guys are still my friends today. Together, we learned our craft even though it was sometimes painful because my job often required me to hold them accountable. So, I have a basis for what I am about to share, because I saw all of these young managers learn these lessons, sometimes the hard way.
With apologies to Robert Fulghum, here are the things that city managers should have learned in kindergarten:
1. Sticks and stones can break your bones but commentaries can never hurt you. That is unless you take it personally and react in a less than professional manner. You are in the public eye. Like a journalist, at any given time, a third of the people are going to like you, a third are going to hate you and a third just won’t care. You can’t let words goad you into acting in an irresponsible manner. When you do, you lose.
2. Unlike your sandbox, in the real world, you can’t take your ball and go home. If someone does something that upsets you, you can’t, as a public administrator, decide that the person or agency just can’t play. You don’t have that option. That would be like a city administrator cutting off water to a town because they didn’t like what the city leaders did or said. You have to play nice, even when others aren’t so nice.
3. Bullies will eventually meet their match. When you are the big kid on the playground and you think you hold all the cards, you have to remember that somewhere a little kid, who has had to fight long and hard just to be on the playground, is goingo get tired of being bullied. That kid is going to be smarter,tougher and a lot meaner than you are. And when you meet that kid, your best bet is to leave them alone.
4. Honesty is always the best policy. In this electronic age everything you say, type, text and email can and will be held against you. Think no one can find your emails? Lois Lerner just learned differently. So don’t say or do anything that you need to hide and if you do something dumb, own up to it. People are more forgiving when you admit to an honest mistake than when you prevaricate.
And finally, this is the first lesson that the mayor taught his young city managers.
5. Never get into a fight with someone who buys their paper by the train load and their ink by the barrelful. You are going to lose because they are always, always going to have the last word!