Top 10 Things I Wish I'd Been Told

Tips for managers on working with elected officials, developing a management style, and maintaining personal balance,

By Jim Bennett, ICMA-CM | Aug 20, 2015 | ARTICLE

By Jim Bennett, ICMA-CM

Using David Letterman’s famous Top 10 format, I wrote this list some years ago when elected officials bought out my contract after more than seven years with a city, and I needed to uproot my family to move to a new position and location.


10  Your colleagues are your best resource.

Join your state association and ICMA.

No one is really ready on Day One of a new job.

Reach out to new managers.

Older managers enjoy being asked for help.


9  You were not hired to have all the answers.

Ability to facilitate is a growing management survival skill.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know.

Build a great team where its members are responsible for the care and health of the community.

Learn about emotional intelligence.

Know what you do well and what you’re bad at.


8  The right answer is the one the elected officials come up with.

Provide recommendations, alternatives, and analysis if asked.

Your answers or those of your staff are not always the right ones.

Never get to the place where you believe that your job is to “protect the citizens.”


7  Be helpful to elected officials.

Your highest priority needs to be the priorities of the elected officials.

Ask yourself “How can I be helpful to them?”

Be the process expert for voting minority members.

Present the “7th” vote.


6  Deal with the right issues in a timely manner.

Gap between demands and resources is a curse to local governments.

What do you choose to fail at?

Encourage your organization to make the right mistakes.

Never fail at personnel issues. Be timely, be decisive, and be hard on the issues, but not on the people involved.

Remember that you are in the expectation business.

Under promise; over deliver.


5  Ask good questions.

Asking the right questions is a powerful tool.

Listen well and be reflective.


4  Develop a management credo/written statement of your personal management philosophy, system of beliefs, and opinions.

Share it with your staff and elected officials.


3  Be serious about your work, but not about yourself.

Have fun every day.

Always demonstrate the importance of what we do and why we do it.

You are not that important, so never assume that you are.


2  Strive to be a “Category 1” person, but understand the other categories, when responding to criticism.

Category 1: People who care about you.

Category 2: People who don’t care about you but who matter.

Category 3: People who neither care about you nor matter.


1  Protect your hometown pride.

You are entrusted with a sacred value—the pride one has for one’s community.

Be involved in the community beyond your job. Demonstrate that community service is in your blood.

Work with energy and enthusiasm.



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