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Harvard Program Offers Valuable Experience
By 2012 ACMA Scholarship Recipients: Dana Hlavac and Susan Thorpe

Dana Hlavac
I am honored to have been able to attend the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Senior Executive in State and Local Government Program this past July through an ACMA scholarship. I initially expected that I would receive all of the great secrets to being a government executive from professors at Harvard. With several hundred pages of reading and studying over the three-week course, it only seemed fair that I would return with a new depth of technical knowledge. Instead, what I learned was that while there was plenty of technical knowledge to be absorbed, there was a strong focus on the role that each of us has as a government executive. Often within the sometimes-amorphous structure of our government, the answers are not clear. In those circumstances, there is a critical necessity that we have leaders who understand the proper role of government as the holder of the public trust as embodied in public funds.

The individual leadership characteristics, which are unique to each executive, must be developed and nurtured in such a way that the public trust is always held sacrosanct. This can be difficult in the face of special interests or political extremism and requires a great deal of courageous leadership. I do not believe there is a single explanation of how courageous leadership applies to each one of us individually, but there were some key concepts that were repeatedly the focus of attention in the formal and informal learning settings. The biases that we have built up through our lives tend to obstruct our ability to objectively and fairly apply the principles that are ingrained in our constitution and laws. Working through these personal and professional biases is important if we are to fairly advocate for good management as government leaders.

For those who ever get the opportunity, this program is truly a game changer. It will re-focus your perspectives and help guide you to a new commitment to the importance of your career as a public servant. It has never felt so good and so challenging to be a public servant!

Susan Thorpe
As I reflect on my experiences from the June 2012 session of the Harvard program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government, I realize that, only after two months back in "the real world" do the lessons and discussions from Harvard begin to take on real meaning and relevance. The first few weeks ("re-entry" as the professors call it) are a time of somewhat awkward and disorienting readjustment to the world of work after being immersed in the world of Harvard for three weeks.

Our class of 62 was larger than I expected, but we were able to make personal connections with one another through our teams, one on one discussion, the Socratic Method of instruction used by the professors, experiential learning and social events. The hours were long. The reading was intense and never-ending. The learning was unique and always thought provoking. Having class mates from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark added further richness to the experience.

Many elements stand out in my mind, so I'll only highlight two. First, a light bulb turned on when the discussion delved into the differences between "technical problems" and "adaptive challenges". A technical problem is one that is can be solved with the head; with adaptive challenges, resistance comes from the heart and gut. What makes it difficult is that we are not well trained to deal with heart and gut situations. Through many case studies, we discussed the differences between these types of challenges and their varying solutions. I have found myself becoming aware of these adaptive challenges in our organization and in my personal life, and the Harvard experience has helped me understand and respond appropriately, and with better results.

Second, one of three books we received that were authored by our lecturers was Leadership on the Line, by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The book reinforces the many lessons we learned in our studies. Marty Linsky has been a fixture of the Harvard program for many years. His presentations and engagement with the class pushed us beyond the first and second answer, to realize there are no easy answers to the questions and problems we face in government.

There are no magic bullets for the work that we do. There are more questions than answers. And, everything we do is a reflection on whether democratic governance is working. All we can do is give the best we have to the issues we face. This may seem a heavy burden at times, but the experience at Harvard made me appreciate the honor and privilege of serving in local government.
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