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Harvard Program Scholarship Offers Valuable Experience
By Gilbert Davidson, Town Manger, Town of Marana

HARVARD Kennedy School of Government. The name carries a hefty reputation in higher education. It bears the name of a leader who touched the hearts and minds of a generation and beyond. For those of us in local government, we are fortunate to have an opportunity to attend an exceptional and dynamic executive education program at the Kennedy School through a generous Arizona City/County Management Association (ACMA) scholarship program.

We all care about our jobs, our communities, and how effective we are at managing both. Sometimes, though, we walk far into the forest and do not always see our shortcomings and approaches to issues. "Rising above the forest" or "getting on the balcony" is essential for leaders to be effective and grounded in reality. Unfortunately, we do not always realize how far into the forest we have walked until we have had a chance to step back.

The three-week executive education program is designed to take you out of your element to face new possibilities. The benefits I received were profound and deeply rewarding. I was challenged on many levels and walked away with valuable tools to use and a fresh perspective to face and better understand the "forest" at home.

My classmates were a diverse array of professionals from around the world. We had elected and appointed officials, union representatives and community-oriented advocates. The cross-section of attendees gave us valuable urban and rural community perspectives. We began the program as individuals and strangers and concluded it as a team of friends and associates able to communicate and listen to each other in new ways.

We explored the Founding Fathers' perspectives on our democracy, which reinforced the role of collective governance and citizen participation at all levels. The effectiveness of our government, with its multiple branches and layers, rests with individual citizens becoming involved and taking an ownership stake. How the Founding Fathers, so strong-willed and diverse in opinion, could craft a constitution that has stood the test of time is remarkable to say the least. It renewed my spirit in this great experiment of democracy.

Like any program, what you put into it is usually what you get out of it. Attending the program was easy. Creating lasting meaning out of it will be the long-term challenge. We tend to operate our lives with routines and habits because they are comfortable and safe. This program helped provide tools and the encouragement to test new management and leadership styles.

There were several core lessons that should be at the center of all our management approaches. Over the three-week program, these issues surfaced numerous times in various forms and contributed to much discussion and debate.

Our greatest asset is our human talent. John F. Kennedy once said, "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings." For this to be true, we must ensure that individuals within our organizations are trained and equipped to properly manage the challenges we face. We need to constantly place ourselves in the path of learning; always finding new ways to solve problems and create value for our organizations and communities. We must make investments in our human capital to ensure our long-term success.

Effective communication is a never-ending exercise. It takes discipline and vigilance to be an effective communicator. Employees need to feel a part of an organization in order to have an ownership stake. In our profession, effective communication should be a key part of management responsibilities. Having effective communication does not mean just talking more or sending more e-mails. It should mean that we engage through various forms of communication and that we are open to honest feedback and input at all levels of the organization.

Learn to manage yourself. Having a better understanding of how we, as individuals, react to our environment is critical to how effective we are as managers and leaders within an organization. If we fail to understand each other's thoughts on the common issues we face, we have the potential to make decisions that do not take into account a complete picture. Learning to manage yourself means that you control your own actions by modifying habits and routines to achieve better results. Ultimately, we cannot separate ourselves from the ownership of the problems around us; we must become part of the solution.

I am grateful to the ACMA committee that allowed me the opportunity to grow, learn, and be a part of this program. Without the generous sponsors and supporters, attending this program would not have been feasible. This is a powerful program that will affect my career and influence the way I approach various issues. I highly recommend it as a way to renew the spirit of public service.
Arizona City/County Management Association
1820 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007   •   Phone: (602) 258-5786   •   Fax: (602) 253-3874   •   www.azmanagement.org