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Hello, everyone, and welcome to the LeaderGov podcast. We're so glad that you are with us whether you're a city leader or county leader or some type of agency could be ie 911, or even a tax commission. We're really glad you're with us. We love serving local government leaders all across the country. And we have a great podcast today a message around this topic of leadership of servant leadership. And our guest is a friend of ours, the city manager of the city of Kennesaw, Georgia, Dr. Jeff Drobney and I want to introduce and say hello, welcome Jeff. It's great to have you look forward to chatting today. Thank you. So do I thank you. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your background as we get started here your your role in local government kind of what's your journey?
Well, it's it's it's not a typical journey. As as many city managers have gone the public administration route, the NPA. I didn't do that I don't have an NPA. Although I do have a master's degree but but certainly not the NPA. My, my role within the city has has grown over the last 22 years. I've just started my 22nd year here with the city. Being city manager since 2015, I've held a number of different roles within the city coming in as a department director, and ultimately, as an agency director, was promoted to the assistant city manager in 2010. And stepped into the role of city manager in 2015. And have continued in that role through through present day. Yeah.
Well, you know, and because we have worked together and we have seen, the way you and your staff operate, this topic of servant leadership resonated with me, because I know that it's something that you take very seriously that you that you practice, it's not just a clever idea. And so I'm really looking forward today to kind of digging into this topic a bit and getting your perspective on this idea of being a servant leader. You know, it's kind of odd coupling of words leadership and servant in the same sentence. And so I'm looking forward to getting your your perspective on a couple things here. So I really thank you again for being with us today.
Yeah, first question I wanted to ask you, is pretty simple. Yes. Like how do you define this what what is servant leadership mean to you, in a kind of a practical sense there at the city of Kennesaw and you know, the people that you serve in your community?
That's a great question and in reflecting on really leadership or the science of leadership, to me servant leadership is is understanding my role or an individual's role with within an organization whether you are a department director, an agency director, Assistant, city manager or even city manager
In my current role, yes, I have a responsibility to ensure that my entire organization is functioning at a high level, that that policies and procedures are being followed that we have a focus and commitment to customer service, that our finances are in order, all of the things that that are typical in the role of a city manager. However, I deeply believe that I also have a responsibility to ensure that my role is one of service to both employees and our citizens. To me, the most important role that that I can play is making certain that our employees are successful.
Okay, at all levels. So, so my, my service or my commitment to them is to serve their needs first as employees, the quality of their work environment, to ask for and listen to their feedback on on everything from workflow to you know, what type of
you know, coffee do we have, you know, in our break room, you know, little things like that, you know, to support training and education opportunities, as as as a servant leader
My role is to put them in a position to succeed.
Okay? In their job, and then also to serve our residents and and our business owners, I never take them for granted. So I come to work every day with a mindset of how am I going to improve the quality of life for our residents, and our business owners. And I want that attitude, that that philosophy to permeate the organization. And that is through serving to the best of my ability, my constituents, and my constituents are our employees, but then also our residents and our business owners.
You know, yeah, Jeff, when we were talking earlier about this topic, you shared a kind of a very simple message, which, you know, if the, if an employee is walking down the hall, you, you tend to stop and say hello, and engage them, and ask them questions about their job and how they're doing. And could you just elaborate on those simple little interactions? Because I, Jeff, I think about some of the people listening to this podcast right now, their their public works, supervisors, they've got a crew that's going on in the field, they might be in, in planning or zoning, and they might have an administrative person at the front desk. And, and these are very practical interactions. And we want to, I would just love to kind of get inside your head about how you engage people and connect with them to show you know, to demonstrate that you do want the best for them, what does that look like sometimes and in your world?
That's a great question. And people are going to know if that is genuine. Or if it's fake, it's very easy to see through. So I show up to work every single day with a positive mindset, I, I go to work with the not that I have to, but that I get to. And that one small, single word change sets up an entirely new perspective. Again, not that I have to do something, but I get to do it. So I Intel, I tell our employees that I am the least important person in the city organization, and that they are the most important. And I tell them that as often as I can. And I care about our employees, as you referenced, I try to know something about each of them. So when our employees are coming in, we have well over 200 employees, we do a new employee orientation. And I have our HR department put that on my calendar for the single specific purpose of going, oh, I need to be purposeful about going in and sitting down and introducing myself and just asking about them. So so maybe it's just one small thing that I can ask about in the hallway, but I want to know about their children, their families, what they did on vacation, etc. And we, as an organization, try our very best to recognize and celebrate the small things in their lives. If their kid won a baseball game, if they've done really well in school, I want to know about those things, because they're important to them. And they're important to me. Because when I see them in the hallway, I can say how is your son? Or how is your daughter, and I get to listen to the stories and I can see the pride in their eyes. Or if there is an issue. They oftentimes want to have somebody to talk to and they can download. And so sometimes I just listened to them as the city manager, but I can also undo and have served as a mentor, or as a therapist or counselor. And I also asked them, How am I doing? How am I doing? And what can I do better? And I've gotten some great feedback. And I take those ideas that they give to me and work to improve myself to help empower them and help to improve their their performance.
Yeah, I really liked that. It's a personal relational connection, a genuine connection. And then it's it sounds like it's coupled with So how can I make how can we make your work environment more productive, more successful? What are some of the roadblocks we can get out of the way to help you be more successful, I love this idea of your job being making the team successful, setting them up for success. And I think, as you said, that's kind of a mindset. And so, again, whether you're a crew leader listening to this, or a city manager, it's really about the other person and making them successful. And I wonder, Jeff, if you would speak just for a few minutes on this idea of what why do we need this in local government, maybe even more so than than the private sector? You know, we are public servants after all, and you've got that word serve it in there. Again, I just wonder if you've got some thoughts around? Why we maybe need to pay attention to this concept more vigorously in in the public sector than even the private sector.
Yeah, I think it is important and, and it is you unique now. Now, I do want to say, you know, the servant leadership is a piece of the of the pie, you know, we've got a mission, and we have vision, and we've got goals, and those permeate the organization, and they those flow down to the individual as well as, as part of the overall our efforts to provide quality service to our residents and our business owners. But But government is is unique. I just read an article earlier today, it was asking the question, should local government be more like a business or operate more like private enterprise, and I don't necessarily believe that, that it's going to in every instance, because the goal of private business is to generate a profit. And and particularly if it's publicly traded, and generate a profit back to the to the shareholders. And it might be a little bit more cutthroat. In many ways, our goal is to improve the quality of life for our residents and, and our business owners. So I think the idea of servant leadership is needed in both the private and the public sectors. But again, in my heart, I believe that the impact of servant leadership can be most felt in local government, if it's done correctly. And the reason being is that the ideas behind servant leadership, if it's done correctly, will permeate the organization, which will impact how our employees serve the public. You can go into, you know, XYZ coffee shop, and they can talk about servant leadership, but it's often not reflected in the service. And so if our employees in local government feel that it's more than a job in a paycheck, they are absolutely going to go that extra mile, and they're going to understand that their role is creating a legacy of a quality of life.
Well, yeah, that's, that's a great, I really love that perspective. And you kind of answered that good. Next question I was going to ask you, which is, you know, how does this make a leader or team more successful, and really, what I just heard you say is, you know, invest in those people around you, they will get it over time, they will see what we say that skills are taught and attitudes are caught. Little saying that we have and people tend to pick up what they see in front of them. And so the idea that you're modeling it to your directors and department heads and others than they model it down to all the way throughout permeating the organization is ultimately Yeah, I think that's that's exactly what we find, takes time and effort, I suspect,
you know, my job is to make the individual employees successful, to help them thrive in their role within their department in organization. And if I can do that, and invest in their success, then that certainly leads to positive outcomes within the department or within the organization as a whole, which in turn makes me successful. Yeah,
right. I'm curious, Jeff, as you think about your career, and this could be a personal answer or professional, maybe someone in the local government profession, but who have you seen really live this out? Well, that maybe was a model for you. This could be a public figure or maybe just someone that that, you know, an uncle in your life who have you seen, maybe someone on your current team who really does well and kind of models that that you've been able to observe? And what did you see about them that made this special? What did they do? That really exemplified this idea of servant leadership?
Yeah, that thank thanks for giving me the opportunity to recognize a couple of people I have been blessed to witness servant leadership and action, and how it can fundamentally change in organization in a community. And, and I've been able to just sit back and watch, and the people that that I've been most influenced by, they did. So they live this servant leadership without being asked. And they did so without knowing that I was watching them. But their influence was profound on me, and it shaped my management philosophy. So they're really two people. One is a gentleman by the name is Paul Chasteen. I met Paul back in 2000. And Paul was a local business leader, who, in his role, was a chairman of an organization that I was involved with. And I saw Paul sacrifice himself time after time, again, in his terms of in terms of his time, in terms of his dollars, even his own business at times, in order to make gains for a greater good within the community. And he's left a huge legacy. And I would listen to him and watch his actions. And he really lived what he preached. The second person who is still very active today is a gentleman by the name of Marlon long acre. Marlon is a pastor at a local church, if there is any person, that that has actually influenced me, in terms of the philosophy of servant leadership, without knowing it, it's Marlon long acre, I don't know that I've ever told him that. But what a powerful man he is, in that he is committed to serving the community in many, many ways, and never asks anything for a return. And he is a powerful leader. And he has influenced 1000s upon 1000s of lives, and he certainly impacted me in terms of how I want to conduct my personal life, but also my, my professional life.
Well, that's amazing. Something kind of struck me as you were talking, Jeff, you said these people were doing this, and they probably didn't even know I was observing them. And I think that's kind of a cool idea. It's, again, that idea of attitudes are caught, you know, we watch other people exemplify some of these principles, and then we start exemplifying them in our own lives, to really great, great examples. You know, I wanted to ask that our guests make a comment, just get you to respond to this, it seems like particularly new leaders, and maybe some tenured leaders, I don't know, Jeff, we get promoted into a new role, a leadership role. And we tend to focus on the task, getting the job done, which is super important. Obviously, we're here to get the job done. But because we're good at what we do, we oftentimes, you know, focus on what I need to do to get my job done, that becomes kind of my daily deal, as opposed to thinking about how I can support those around me, and motivate them and inspire them and encourage them to get the job done. And I just wonder that that switch over I'll call it kind of a shift from, if it's to be it's up to me, that's sort of one mindset. The other mindset is, I'm going to invest in other people and promote inspire them to get the job done. Do you see that shift occurring in people as they as they grow in their leadership, this sort of from From a sort of a not a selfish focus, but a focus on them getting their job done versus investing in other people, do you see that shift occur in young leaders?
Yeah, I do. And, and, you know, we, when, when, when people come to work for us, as young leaders, we work with them, and we mentor them. And, you know, we've talked about, about this before, leadership styles and leadership philosophies permeate books, they permeate podcasts, you know, articles and conference sessions. And it seems that every retired politician, politician or military officer or athlete or corporate CEO or faith leader, whomever, has the answer to leadership, and, and, and so much so that there is this tremendous leadership overload for young leaders, and it can be confusing, it can be counterproductive, if they try to imitate or mimic. So when when we work with young leaders within our own organization, we ask them, to be genuine to yourself and to find what works for you. But we continue to push and instill the idea and show through our own actions, that at the end of the day, their job as a leader is to improve the organization. Yes, but also those around you. Okay, so yeah, you've got a job to do. We've got to improve the organization. But don't sacrifice the success of the organization by ignoring those around you. Because if you do, you're going to fail, and so will the organization. So being a manager is really easy. You can tell people what to do, or ask them all day long, that's really simple. But being a leader, that is committed to the personal and professional success of those in your organization, takes a unique style of leadership, that you have to commit to be in service of others. And if you are, people will know if it's genuine, or if it's simply an act, if it's an act, they're going to see through that quickly, and they're going to shut down and they're going to ignore what you're asking them to do. But if people truly believe in you, they're going, it's always important to me to ask, is that person doing something? Because I've, I've asked them to? Or are they doing it? Because they believe in me? And they want me to be successful as well.
Yeah, actually, I think you just answered the last question I was going to ask you, which is, what would you say to next generation leaders and, and and I love this message of taking a genuine interest in the success and development of others, while getting the job done. We have to do both. But I really liked the way that you all are setting an expectation. And I heard that as well, in your answer. We're saying to them, we expect you to get the job done. Yes. We also expect that you're going to take an interest in the development of the people on your team. And I think so often we we forget that second part, and it's you talk about memories and mentors, and you know, just this years and years later, people look back and say yes, I remember Mark, I remember what he did I remember Lakeisha and what she did for me, it's a very powerful, it has a very powerful impact on people's lives for the better. So thank thank you for saying that any as we kind of close out here, this topic, any sort of closing thoughts or maybe anything you would, you know, want to share with the local government folks that are listening. And again, you've kind of said it well, this is a leadership and servant leadership are enormously large topics and we could probably talk all day on it, but just any any sort of final thought or comment that you might have, that you would want to share to the local government leaders listening today.
I would just say thank you to them for their service. Being in local government in 2022 is not an easy task. And we are bombarded from all sides from from the public, from elected officials, from from our employees, but local government is is the backbone of this country. So thank you for all that you do for your community. Continue with your journey. And continue to find that leadership style those leaders that work for you. But I do ask that you would keep that servant leadership at the very core because it will be successful for you.
Yeah, well, that's a great, that's a great way to end. And I do want to say, Jeff, you know, we've been working with your city, partnering with you all and this specifically with emerging leaders, and we've got a chance to be together in some of those meetings, and I have had an opportunity to observe you and watch your style. And I just want to take a moment just to say thank you, to you for your care, your genuine care and concern for the betterment of the people on your team. We work with a lot of local governments, and we see a tremendous amount of focus on just get the job done. And so observing you doing that, but but in addition to that, at the core, helping other people be successful, I've watched it. And so I just want to tell you, thank you for leading the way that you do. Thank you very much. That means a lot. Thank you. Yeah, well, we appreciate having you, Jeff, if folks want to check out the city of Kennesaw you can get is it Kennesaw ga.gov
Yeah, it's Kennesaw dash ga.gov
Yeah, so the city's website kinosol Dash ga.gov. You can check out the great city of Kennesaw here in Georgia, they've got a lot of unique services that they provide to the to the city botanical gardens and a train historical train museum. If you're ever in coming down 75 from Chattanooga, check out kinosol Spend some money and help grow the tax base. Right Jeff? What sir, we'd love to have your I would thank everybody. Again, we appreciate you being a part of this podcast. We hope you have a wonderful day and we'll look forward to seeing you back next.