Profession of Doers

What do you want to be when you grow up? A question we’ve all been asked since we learned to talk. Typical answers are fireman, teacher, police officer, doctor, or lawyer. However, I’ve never heard city manager on that list. During my term as president of the Urban Management Assistants of North Texas, I wanted to find a way to help early professionals be proactive in making opportunities to be successful in their current and future positions.

Over the course of several months, I interviewed 19 local government leaders made up of new city managers, tenured city managers, former city managers, and deputy and assistant city managers. I asked each manager what is the most frequently asked question by an emerging leader. Each answer was recorded and compilation of advice for career advancement was developed. The following list is a compilation of that advice.

Be a Learner. The most critical departments mentioned that emerging leaders need to gain knowledge and experiences are finance/budget, human resources, public safety, and development. This means that the desire and willingness to learn and ask questions cannot stop with a degree in hand if you want to be successful.

Be Ambitious. Individuals need to be actively prepare themselves from day one and be intentional about what they’re going to learn from they’re experiences. One mistake that young people make is that they think that in order to do the work, they should be getting the pay and the title. However, the pay and title comes with the experience, and you can’t get the experience if you aren’t willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work.

Build Relationships. Everything is done through relationships. Everything. Every person has to be managed and treated in a different way, which can only be found through taking the time to get to know them on an individual level. Once you have an established and ongoing relationship, you will know their strengths, weaknesses, and their aspirations so that you can help them be successful. In turn, they will trust you, be loyal to you, and help you to accomplish your goals.

Be Self-Aware. Knowing yourself and being able to adapt to your surroundings is a soft skill that emerging leaders need to focus on. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion, but learn to use discretion. Read the room and figure out who your audience is and whether what you want to say is appropriate or not at that specific moment.  Asking more questions engages people.

Have Confidility. Confidence and humility are two soft skills that were brought up in the same sentence from multiple managers. So I coined a new term: confidility. The definition is to have a feeling of self-assurance with a modest view of your own importance. Confidence without humility can destroy relationships and create a negative reputation.

Communicate Effectively. In this field, we have complex issues that must be explained in a way that makes sense to every constituent, regardless of their knowledge of the topic at hand.  When writing a memo or response, have someone else read it who knows little about it so you can make sure you’ve written it in an understandable manner. Be cognizant of the tone and body language being used when verbally communicating.

Be a Servant Leader. Servant leadership is an organizational lifestyle that starts and ends with you. At its core, servant leadership is leading by example, meaning to never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself, and putting the needs of others before your own. You are a public servant and are committed to making your community a better place by making people’s lives better through the services you provide.  Therefore, servant leadership and city management go hand-in-hand.

Matt Mueller, town manager of the Town of Little Elm, inspired the title of this guide that I wrote when he said, “City management is a calling greater than just a job; it’s a profession of doers.” Your degree can teach you the basic fundamentals of local government, your job can teach you technical skills associated with your function, but it’s up to you to be committed to making your community better by improving the lives of the people you serve.

(Article submitted by Caitlan Biggs, Assistant to the Town Manager, Little Elm. If you have interesting news or helpful topics to share, please submit them to Kim Pendergraft at Please keep the information to fewer than 750 words.)