SOLGM’s LG Executive Leaders Programme
Bay of Plenty Regional Council communications manager Sam Rossiter-Stead was a member of the first cohort of SOLGM’s LG Executive Leaders Programme. One year on from completing the 12-month course, he reflects on the lessons learned and the value he and his council have gained.
When I signed up for the programme back in 2016, I set myself very clear goals on what I wanted to achieve. For me, this was about helping to define and develop my own personal leadership style, through the expert coaching on offer from the Continuum Consulting Group and the exchange of best practice with my fellow participants.
The pre-requisite for this professional development training course was that it was exclusively for experienced managers in positions of influence, who aspired to reach the highest levels of local government. Our group of 13 was, in the main, driven by the twin desires of taking a step up in our careers and also learning how to cope once we got there. Nobody in our sector believes that senior management is straightforward and nobody wants to be set up to fail. This was preparation for the toughest jobs in a demanding area of public service.
Given that background, and my own definition of what success would look like, it’s hard to see how we could have gained any more from what was on offer. Four of us have gone on to acting CEO positions, one is now in her first full-time CEO role, and several others have gained more senior positions either through internal promotions or new opportunities in other councils.
Every fellow graduate I’ve spoken to in the past few months has pointed to the learnings they gained through the programme as being pivotal to their development.
The input of Jenny McDonald and her team at the Continuum Consulting Group was exceptional, and there are lessons I personally learned from them which I now put into practice on an almost daily basis. The foresight that SOLGM has shown also needs to be acknowledged. They recognised there was an issue with our sector growing its own senior leaders and they have put a comprehensive programme in place to help to remedy that.
Learn about leadership – tick. Learn about yourself – tick. Learn from others – tick. Gain confidence – tick. However, that is not even half the story. By far the greatest value I have gained from the SOLGM LG Executive Leaders programme has been the network I now belong to. From day one, I felt part of a special group. We rapidly developed a very trusting environment in which to share our stories, hopes, fears and ambitions in safety.
That took around 24 hours for most of us, although one of my colleagues confided in me recently that he was fairly sceptical of some of us until the final afternoon of that first three-day residential. He is now one of the people I have the closest connection with, but his trust was hard-earned. Many of us keep in touch regularly, offering support and sharing experiences.
Which leads me on to a confession. The benefits of the programme that I completely overlooked when setting my original goals were the ones that would assist my council and the community I serve. It wasn’t all about me! This wasn’t solely personal and professional development – it was actually sector development.
One of my biggest gripes about local government is the time, and money wasted reinventing the wheel. If one community has invested heavily in developing a new policy or strategy, why keep it to themselves? Share and save NZ Inc the cost of replication. From that perspective, our cohort has made incredible progress over the past two years.
Ratepayers have benefitted tremendously from the sharing culture we have developed. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist in other areas of local government and channels, such as the SOLGM LISTSERV, are extremely useful in that regard. But it’s so much easier to get on the phone or fire off a quick email to someone in a senior position at another council with whom you already have a close and trusting relationship.
In the past few months alone, I have spent time at two other councils learning how they dealt with issues we are currently facing, ‘borrowed’ a leading expert in one particular field for a week-long upskilling session, sent one the other way, and we’ll shortly be lending one of our most experienced managers to another council which is experiencing some major issues and needs expert advice from someone who is not looking to profit from their situation.
All this cross-pollination saves our organisations money and time, whilst increasing the levels of service we deliver to our communities. This is, without doubt, the greatest benefit I and my council have gained from the SOLGM LG Executive Leaders Programme, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the way in which the training was presented.
It was a totally inclusive course, designed as much for the local government sector as a whole as it was for individuals. I realise that now, although I freely admit that I might have been a bit slow on the uptake.
Thank you, Karen Thomas, thank you, Jenny McDonald and thank you to my 12 fellow 2016 cohort graduates. Together we are making a bigger difference to local government in this country than we could ever have imagined on that first apprehensive day two years ago.
This article was first published in the December 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.