Jake Wood is co-founder & CEO of Team Rubicon, and author of Take Command: Lessons in Leadership. Team Rubicon is a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and deploys military veterans to disaster zones around the world and within the United States. We were eager to chat with him before the conference to hear how his message translates to local government management.
How can local government managers use the principles from your book, Take Command: Lessons in Leadership: How to Be a First Responder in Business? What are some specific lessons to keep in mind when it comes to public service and making life better for the residents they serve?
I think that the most important lesson is the chapter on perspective. Particularly when crafting plans and policies, it’s critical that city managers get out among the various communities and stakeholders to see things from their perspective. So often we feel that we have the right answer because we‘ve seen the question before, but rarely does our experience map to the needs of others. Changing perspective requires people to leave their comfort zone, to have empathy, and to be open to changing their mind about preconceived notions.
Crisis management and disaster preparedness are crucial for those working in local government. You’re certainly no stranger to high-pressure situations and you emphasize the importance of “clarity of mind and purpose when surrounded by chaos.” What advice can you give those in local government when it comes to handling such times?
It’s a leader’s job to provide a sense of calm amid calamity. One maxim of the military is that fear and panic are contagious. Don’t be patient zero. Rather, help those around you separate what matters from what’s irrelevant; focus on clear, measurable objectives; and set out to “eat the elephant” in front of them one bite at a time.
You do a lot for veterans in helping them find purpose in helping others after their military service. Similarly, ICMA is active in helping veterans transition into local government management. What’s important to keep in mind when working with the veteran community and how can we best assist them?
I think the most important thing when working with the veteran community is to work to understand their background and experience. It’s very easy for hiring managers to look at a veteran’s resume and not know anything about anything on it. Rather than throwing it into the discard pile, take the time to understand the applicant’s relevant skills, training, and experience. Start with the assumption that this individual is highly motivated, a great team player, and very trainable. Further, they’ve likely executed challenging missions in tough situations. Who wouldn’t want that type of talent on their team?
ICMA as an association turned 105 this year. What should we take from such an enduring legacy?
Team Rubicon often talks about building an organization in terms of a 100-year legacy, so first and foremost, congratulations on getting there. Our cities define so much about us. Spreading best practices across communities is critical to helping solve the inequities that reduce our friends’ and families’ quality of life. ICMA members should be proud to work every day to improve the lives of their neighbors.
What are some issues to keep in mind as ICMA — and the local government profession — look toward the next 100 years?
How do we actually create a level playing field for all our citizens? How do we shrink the obvious equity gaps across our communities, giving everyone a fair chance at a fulfilled life? How do we become better stewards of our planet, regardless of our political beliefs? How do we create thoughtful policies that bring divided communities together, and restore normalcy to our everyday interactions?