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I may have lost an election, but I haven't lost interest.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leadership and Management

There seems to be some confusion about what the Town Board of Commissioners actually does. The Board is, under NC General Statutes, the "governing body." That doesn't mean that the commissioners as a body or any one of the commissioners as an individual has any administrative role in the day to day operation of Town Hall.

The Board of Commissioners is a legislative body. It makes the rules - passes ordinances, approves the budget, makes policy; but has no operational function. The Board has hiring and firing authority over the Town Manager, but no direct authority. Its only authority is that of oversight.

That sometimes leaves the Town Manager in an awkward position. Does he have five bosses? What if one commissioner says one thing and another commissioner says the opposite?

The Mayor also lacks administrative authority, at least by statute. He has only the authority to chair meetings of the Board of Commissioners. So how does the Town Manager know what to do if a problem arises between Board meetings?

Experienced managers often navigate this maze by establishing informal arrangements. Sometimes that works. Another possibility is to establish a formal arrangement. The Board of Commissioners, for example, has the authority to designate the Mayor as the person the Manager should consult for guidance on day to day matters. The Board would always retain the authority to override the Mayor, but such an arrangement might alleviate some confusion.

What the Board doesn't do is enforce ordinances. That is the responsibility of the Town Manager, through his heads of department.

Every leader or manager has his or her own style of leadership. In more than fifty years managing various size organization, both military and civilian, I have come to some conclusions as to what works best:

1. Positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement;
2. Leaders get better results when they seek cooperation and ideas rather than demanding compliance by ordering it, except in extreme cases;
3. Leaders can delegate authority but never responsibility - when a ship runs aground, the Captain is responsible even if he is asleep in his cabin;
4. Effective leaders delegate as many tasks as possible, exercising oversight by intervening only to keep things from going wrong - that's known as "control by negation";
5. Subordinates also need to understand that they are not and cannot be responsible to the degree that the "boss" is.

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