If you’ve got the notion that there’s an enormous “Help Wanted!” sign hanging over Stanislaus County, you’re not alone.
Some of our region’s most important public institutions are looking for leaders, or will be very soon.
▪ Stan Risen has announced his plan to retire as Stanislaus County CEO.
▪ The city of Modesto is looking for a new city manager, but also four high-ranking officials – fire chief, two deputy city managers and finance director.
▪ After having gone through two general managers in four years, Modesto Irrigation District is looking for yet another.
▪ Yosemite Community College District has embarked on its second round of interviews for a new chancellor for its three campuses.
There’s plenty more openings on the horizon as people of a certain age (looking at you, baby boomers) are undoubtedly contemplating retirement – from school district superintendents to top cops to city and county department heads.
This leadership vacuum isn’t a crisis, but an incredible opportunity – if we approach filling these jobs the right way.
We know there are capable, competent and dedicated boards and councils tasked with making these hires, but these openings will have an impact on the entire community. So we talked to a host of individuals from elected leaders to former execs to community members to ask them what they think we need – not for any specific entity, but for the good of everyone.
One answer leaped out: We need leaders who recognize that we’re all in this together; that their organizations are connected to every other organization and every person.
▪ We share a linked fate. No organization, department, neighborhood or individual can succeed in a silo. True leaders tear down silos then build up through partnerships.
▪ Elected boards and councils have vastly important roles to play (that’s why we vote for them). But those roles do not include dictating procedures and policies. That’s why they hire general managers and CEOs and superintendents. The role of board members is to have a vision, to set priorities and make the tough decisions – including whom to hire. Then they should get out of the way and let the employees go to work. If those employees fail, then there’s another decision to make.
▪ Public executives must be held accountable, but not held hostage. In other words, give them priorities but let them figure out how to accomplish the goals.
▪ Those who look only inward never see the big picture. Those who look only outward miss what’s going on under their noses. Top executives need eyes in the back of their heads so they can see both directions.
▪ When given a chance, our region produces people who rise to statewide prominence – Vito Chiesa led the California State Association of Counties; Don Gaekle is on the Claifornia Assessors Association executive committee; Adam Christianson has led the California State Sheriffs’ Association; Matt Machado led the state association of public works directors; Kristin Olsen is vice chair of the state’s Republican Party, and there are others we’ve undoubtedly missed. New executives should recognize we have talent here and help us develop it.
▪ Organizations whose employees are so head-down in their work they can never look up seldom complete their mission to anyone’s satisfaction.
▪ Modesto is like a big small town, homey and friendly. But don’t let that stop you from thinking big and ruffling feathers. As one panelist said, “sometimes you worry that you might offend a person because you know you’re going to see them every day at Preservation Coffee.” Sometimes our worldviews need tilting.
▪ When you have an idea, how do you share it?
▪ There’s an old saying, if the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem is a nail. How many tools are on your belt? Which is your favorite?
▪ The definition of poverty is not having a stake in the outcome. How do you give everyone in this incredibly diverse community a stake in the success of your endeavor?
▪ No matter what organization you’re applying to lead, how do we create more college graduates?
▪ No matter what organization you’re applying to lead, how do we create more safety?
▪ No matter what organization you’re applying to lead, how do we create more opportunity?
▪ Tell me what collaborative leadership looked like when you did it well.
▪ When we keep people waiting for promotions, they often become frustrated and leave. How will you keep the next generation engaged and here?
▪ When people reach the top, they tend to coast. What’s your personal growth plan?
▪ Explain a moment when you were deeply vulnerable and how worked through it and what that means to others?
▪ Persuade me to move to Stanislaus County.
▪ Who is your favorite leader? No one comes to mind? Then choose from: George Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mother Jones, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez.
▪ Modesto is a wonderful town, but we constantly hear from the same people. How do you build on-ramps for those who too seldom are heard?
Our community, like others, is on the cusp of generational change. If we do this right, we’ll be miles ahead. If we don’t, well, we could be stuck asking why we didn’t.