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Well welcome everybody to the LeaderGov podcast, we got another great show for you today. And we are super excited about the guests that we have. From California. I want to remind everybody the purpose of why we do this, we provide these podcast interviews with local government leaders really in an effort to inspire and to equip local government leaders, directors, supervisors, managers, city managers, county managers, or even agencies, tax commissions. And so we're really dedicated and we love pouring into and providing content that's valuable to help you do your job better, and then ultimately serve the citizens of your community better. So we're excited today to have a special guest, the city manager from Carson, California, and her name is Sharon Landers. Good afternoon chair. How are you?

I am great bill. Um, it's a very busy time here right now. But despite that, my community is doing well.

Awesome. I know Carson is about a 90 100,000 population, community you're tucked in there, or near Long Beach area. We've got you know, today we're going to talk about four sort of, I would say basics management basics, you know, excellence in management, local government for four questions for you. Before we do that, I want to ask if you could just share a bit about your background in local government, and anything you'd like to tell us about other roles you've played at cities or other other agencies.

My path has been a little bit different than most people that are in the city manager profession. So don't necessarily think about emulating my path. I didn't even know about city managers. When I started working in government, as a lawyer, and of law school, my interests and my passion was environmental law. And I started in a transportation agency helping them with clean air issues, essentially working on environmental issues for them. Through a number of flukes, I wound up in the governor's office on transportation issues on New York State Governor's office, then the New York City Mayor's office, all dealing with environmental and environmental and transportation issues as a young attorney, but I quickly started thinking about being more involved on the policy side of things. And I had that opportunity in both of those positions, working with the New York governor and then your city mayor, to get more involved in the policy side, but still really primarily in transportation. Um, one of the things that I came to discover is that transportation is a critical part of economic development. And I had an opportunity to work with Christie, Todd Whitman, in New Jersey. It was Nereo Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo is dad in New York, governor's office and met Mayor Koch from New York City, and then Christie, Todd Whitman, in New Jersey, and transportation again. And then by a very big fluke, I went across country, and came into California, still mostly doing at that point in transportation working with LA Metro in an interim position, but it's what brought me to California, still doing transportation policy management. And I spent a little time after that, as a consultant in my own business working with government. In fact, that's where I met the city manager that I ultimately came down to work for in Irvine. But prior to that, got a job actually doing economic development in San Jose, California. And so I was able to start connecting with pieces that I started talking about before, transportation is just a big piece of economic development. And in fact, the reason I was hired to work with the redevelopment agency in San Jose, California, was because of my transportation backgrounds. They wanted somebody that can help them with a big project that was coming up, which was Bart on a transit program from San Francisco, down to San Jose, and I remember the CEO that hired me, saying, I could teach you redevelopment, but I can't teach somebody transportation. And that was my ticket into that agency. But I was hired after that come back to Irvine, which is because the city manager that I'd worked with, when I had my own company, who was at the time the city manager of South Pasadena, where I lived, had gotten the job of his life as the city manager in Irvine, which is where he grew up. And he called me when I was in San Jose and asked me if I if I would come down and be his assistant city manager. There's a long story behind it, but I did eventually Come down. And I was his assistant city manager for 12 years. He and I worked together for 12 years and he retired. And when he retired, I left for a while to be a consultant again, had a blast. Doing some work for Mission Viejo in transportation as a consultant, went on payroll with Rancho Cucamonga to be their director of community development of all things. And then was hired to be the city manager and Carson. And I'm happy to say that I've now been in question as the city manager for just over a year. I started in on March on May 8. And so I just recently had my one year anniversary, Carson, as you mentioned, is tucked in on just above or to the east of Long Beach, just south of the city of LA, part of LA County, it's considered to be one of the cities in the south bay of LA County. And I have for those of you that are paying attention to the news, I'm besides what we're all dealing with, with COVID 19. Right now, LA County has been one of the area's that's had a lot of civic unrest, as a result of protests and marches that are peaceful, for George Floyd, um, who is tragically and unnecessarily killed by police officers in Minneapolis. But there are a number of people that have come here with bad intention, and have used those peaceful protests and marches to start looting. And so we've had a series of curfews for the last three or four nights. The looting, thankfully, is reduced. But Carson has been hit not as badly as some of the cities in LA County, like Beverly Hills or West Hollywood, but we have been hit. And it has been a concern. And we do have a number of plans marches here on Saturday that were working toward ensuring our peaceful

Wow, well, I really appreciate you taking time, particularly at this moment when you have two two big things on your plate, as does I guess, everybody but they'd be more so based on what you told us. You know, I do want to ask you a question about the kind of a little bit off script related to what you're saying here. It's like, as a city leader, or a county leader, whatever, in crisis, right? We've got big stuff going on what, what are like the one or two big things that bubble up for you? What are the big qualities, leadership qualities that rise up for you that you're really more attuned to in crisis that may be otherwise?

I mean, it's just such an interesting question, because I actually, not so many people have lived through a crisis before. And I have experienced having been as a young lawyer, I'm working for New York State Government, in an emergency situation. And maybe that helps my thinking, where even though I'm a lawyer, and I do everything by the book, I learned that in a crisis, you bans rules, because of emergency situations. And so it's, perhaps certainly well, to see other examples along my career where, again, highly ethical people that I've worked for, who themselves had been lawyers, looking at a emergency, and looking at it differently. And it's caused me to think differently because of that. And so one of the things that I've found here in Carson, that's really served my counseling me well, is that I've looked at things differently. So immediately, I started looking at how do we do programs for people that were no longer serving our seniors. And we have all these folks that were doing parks and rec programs that were no longer at work because of COVID. And one of them, and I started planning is a series of programs that we can put together food programs for seniors. And so we very quickly put together a grab and go lunch program for our seniors very safe. And then that turns into a grocery box program. We call it our essentials to go when we put together groceries for a week at a time for families and I don't typically fundraise, but I found myself very quickly and willingly calling some of their bigger companies and asked if they would contribute to our grocery box program. And within a few days raised about $60,000 something again that I've never done. But we put that together those programs with no experience, and we knew that they were needed it. But even more importantly, I'll give you an example of thinking differently. So I knew that we had a grant from our LA Metro and Regional Transportation Authority, and a qmD, which is an air quality organization for about $300,000. To use for first and last mile transportation. Um, so the whole point of it is to get people out of their cars. But if they can't get to the train station, to and from work, how do we do that it's to help fund that so that they can use transit. Well, we turned we shut down our bus, local bus system. Unlike other cities, we decided ridership was down. And we found that to be a very unsafe place, we didn't feel that it was a good thing to continue during COVID. But what are we going to do in its place? So I turned around and asked my young transportation manager to go back to LA, Metro and AQ and Z, and ask if we can convert that program to program where we've used left, we were going to use Lyft. Anyway, I think, for a variety of reasons that I won't get into, but to convert this to a subsidized lift program for our resonance, wow. And I sent him off, and I'm sure he fought on an impossible mission. And he came back with a miracle. They said yes. And we were able to convert our program, because of the situation. But nobody else thought about it, but me. And, you know, I don't I think for the food programs, other people would have thought about them eventually. But um, it's really thinking differently. Thinking about our local hoteliers have come to us some of them and said that the taxes that they've pay for it's they're called Trans transitory taxes, where there's a surcharge on people staying in hotel, you know, people aren't staying in hotels, the fees they're collecting are down. They're paying their fees because they're getting their money. So it's not an issue, except for one of our bigger hotels, because clients are airlines, and other corporate clients who stopped paying the bill. So all of a sudden, they didn't have the money to pay us his cash flow. So they came to us and said, we just need three months to get back on schedule, we have the money, but we're late. Can you waive fees, and late late fees and charge interest payments, and let us make those payments later. And we have an emergency Council minimum with the mayor. And we immediately agree to doing something like that. So it's looking at things that we could do, that are just helping our businesses I can go on and on. I know that's not what this is about. But yeah, examples.

Yeah, no, no, I you know, what I hear you saying is adaptability and innovation. being adaptable, being moldable, thinking on your feet, coming up with new new ways to do things and innovating. And I think I think it's wonderful, very practical ways of just thinking differently about a situation. And as a city manager, or county manager or even a public works director, it doesn't matter. You know, almost every day you're faced with opportunities to be adaptable. And what a great skill, what a great leadership quality to have in your arsenal. And so really want to encourage any local government leaders that are listening to really think about am I adaptable and flexible, or am I super rigid in the way I go about doing things, because that does limit how you can serve your citizens. So with a pension,

one more example. And it's actually something that is similar to what you're going to be we're going to be talking about a little bit later. But as an example, the council was enormously concerned about small businesses going out of business. And we're learning that it's actually more expensive for some businesses to get back in business once they go out. And so there was a real drive to find a way to help these businesses. Everybody's in a deficit situation. And actually the council did decide to allocate nonetheless, half a million for small business loans, but that's a drop in the bucket. 10,000 apiece, you're only giving 50 companies alone. I came up with the idea of hiring a consultant to assist all of the costs in businesses free of charge, we would pay the consultant and that way any business can avail themselves of that service. You know, and if you think about how complicated going for these SBA loans are and not having an idea if you're a small company, the mom and pops are the ones we're worried about not the bank ones that have their own advisers. It's almost like if you go into your own business, you need a tax consultant, you can't do it yourself. And not everybody can afford the tax consultant. So we hired somebody that came to us. I mean, actually, I don't know if I should take credit for the idea, I think I can take credit for recognizing that it was a good idea and jumping on it. But whereas the council, this is back to what you just said about being innovative, where the council would have loved to spend millions of dollars to help these businesses, and we knew we couldn't do that. So we found another way, that's when I like to achieve.

Oh, yeah. And you're and you're in, you're leveraging your influence, you're leveraging your expertise, you. And the other thing I really love just popped in my head, as you were talking was, you kind of follow the problem, you know, where's the problem, let's get to the heart of the problem. And if there's a lack of resources or skills and filling out the SBA loans, let's help solve that problem. Because it's going to create a bigger benefit than us throwing money at the problem. Love it. That's, it's really good. I'm glad we stopped and talked about that for a minute, because those are really foundational leadership qualities, pretty much year round, but particularly in crisis. So thank you for that. So for any local government leader that's listening, we're going to be talking today about productive meetings, handling difficult employees, setting outcomes and setting vision. Now we know that all of you have perfect teams and your employees are awesome, sweet, you know, hardworking people all the time, never get into trouble never cause hassles. Nor do you everyone's perfect, right. So we're looking forward to getting some thoughts. And I really just have four questions, just a question on each. And so as we think about productive meetings, nobody likes to go to meetings. They're usually boring, they run long, there seems to be no purpose in them. So how do you share in how do you keep your meetings? Interesting? How do you keep them collaborative? What do you do to really bring up the value of people in the meetings?

Well, there are a couple of tricks. As you can imagine, and I'm going to try to stay at eye level in talking about them, it's really important to have an agenda for your meeting, it's really important that people come prepared to address your agenda, so that you don't just give the agenda out at the meeting, you give it out before the meeting, so that people come prepared to talk about the issues at your meeting. That's one thing, the other is to really have time limits, so that your meetings aren't endless. Um, for me, my meetings almost have time limits, because I have another meeting after, so they don't have the luxury of going on as long as I sometimes even want them to. But having a time limit is really important. In terms of engaging staff, there's some days that I'm better than others at that, you know, I think you need to first of all develop a relationship with all your players at every level, so that when people come to the meeting, they're already comfortable. And they're feeling like there's a camaraderie. When I'm really on, I try to be witty, if I could be, you know, at the beginning, and maybe even start with something personal, that I know about, or events of the day to fill my team in on something that I know about that I know that they don't know about, but it's they will know about it later. Because it's a you know, a big thing that's happening, like a curfew and I could tell them in advance and they can feel like they're an insider. So that's important. But um, I've learned a couple of tricks. Even very recently, I went to wonderful ICMA program. I CMA is an organization for city managers, both at the city and county managers. And I had the opportunity about a year ago, in March, to go to a program that I would not have normally gone to, and it was called Gettysburg. And it's in Gettysburg. And it's actually using the war for lessons. And the reason I say that I wouldn't normally not have gotten is because I'm not a person interested in war. And so that wouldn't have been something I sought out. But I was in between gigs. It was on just before actually, I didn't realize that I would already be in Carson. I just started in costume, but I had gotten into it because the ICMA does wonderful things for city managers and between jobs and they provide opportunities where they waive registration. And I just happened to look to see what I can get into. And I got into this Gettysburg program which turns out everybody was listening. I want to do a little pitch phenomenal on believable for even somebody not interested in more understanding the techniques. So one of the things I learned that I now use all the time. And it's a secret. It's really something that serves me well. But I learned it from this Gettysburg program. And it's when you want to find out what's really going on. And you have a roomful of people with different ranks in the military, but in your city, people from different levels of government. The secret is, you start by asking the lower ranking people in the room, their opinions about things, because if you get to them last, they won't give you their honest opinion. They will mirror what their superiors said. So if you start with the lower ranking, the the people that in your organization, maybe are not the top people, you'll get a little bit more honest information about what's going on.

You know, it's psychology, right? You know, because I want to, I want to be in alignment with my boss, right? I don't want to risk going up. I love that. That's neat. Any other one other tip from the war thing before we move on?

Well, a big part was, and I think you mentioned it, when you started by asking the question, it's really being inclusive. And, you know, that was something that was a big lesson at Gettysburg. But it's a lesson for anybody that lead, you really want to make sure that people are participating. And actually, I make a point of telling people that if they're not going to participate in a meeting, if they're subbing, for example, for somebody else, that if they're not going to participate, unless I'm using the meeting, as a training, and sometimes I do that, sometimes I want people just there to hear what's going on and to be part of the inner circle. But if that's not the goal, if your goal is to really make sure you're getting the information you need, from those people in the meeting, if people aren't contributing, I don't invite them back to my meeting. Wow, brilliant, that they have to contribute or not

brilliant. I love that. Because these meetings are very expensive, right? You got 1012 people sitting around the table, and you're going over weekly updates and each departments spending all this time and then nobody's contributing or, you know, offering suggestions or thoughts. It's like, what are we doing here, just send an email, and we'll be done. So love what you're saying. And it gets around to productivity. But beyond productivity, it's like collaboration and healthy conflict. And of course, we can only do that in relationship. So building those relationships you talked about is so important. So switching gears to people for a minute handling difficult employees. You know, again, everybody's got folks on their team that and we're not talking about the thing here where someone just comes in to work one day at a 30 in a bad mood that's different. But someone that is constantly challenging you someone that's constantly a morale issue gossiping, how can you think can you share with the audience one or two things that you've done that have been helpful in, in dealing with and addressing and helping employees who are difficult?

I'm gonna broaden it beyond just employees, if you don't mind, because some of the examples that I want to talk about are good illustrations. And it's not always just your staff, it can be volunteers. When you're working in government, you often work with volunteers in various programs. And for me, it's been animal care, for example, where we couldn't run an animal care program, we this is Irvine, we don't mind our own program here in Carson. It's done by the county, so I'm not so involved in the volunteer side. But the volunteer that the story that I want to tell, is really important, but it was Irvine, one of the things that I found was that there were a few people in the volunteer group that stepped up as leaders. And in their leadership, they brought forward issues and concerns that they had. And that was extremely important. But the leadership part that I learned was that you can't man, allow them to be the ones that then interpret what you're doing to the other volunteers, because what I found was, even though they were good at raising the issues, they wanted to stay in control. And in staying in control, they often did not accurately portray your information back. So we had to, we use them initially, but we very quickly switched tracks, to then having large meetings with all of the volunteers so that we were no longer channeling through the key people who were starting out as being leaders. They They were appropriate in raising the issue to us. But they, then their role was limited to that.

So how do you how do you make that switch? Then how do you confront them? Have a conversation? And say, you know, I noticed you did this. And we're going to how do you have those conversations where you're? Or do you

know, not in that case? Yeah. Because it was really something that we realized strategically, with causing a problem for us. And in fact, those particular leaders while they served an important role, we knew that they weren't in lockstep with the feelings of the rest of the volunteers, right? Reason to confront them with that. And it was natural for us to get us to go them back out to the larger group to.

But so how do you deal with it with an employee, then once you have a situation where you'd have a employee who's really disrupting teamwork consistently? Is there? Is there an approach that you like to take? When you're dealing confronting that employee with their with their poor behavior? Is there anything you would you would add there?

So I don't know if it comes across. But I'm not a passive person. And when I think about different personality traits, I'm probably more leaning toward assertive. And I know that not everybody is as comfortable as I am with being in conflict situations. I am, I don't know why I am, you know, it may have to do with my upbringing, or my training along the way of being a lawyer and being very confident because of my credentials. I don't really know. But I like to confront things that are problematic. And by that, I mean, I don't want to create conflict, I'm walking into a difficult conversation, I know that I am. And I tried to minimize conflict, before, I'm trying to signal to the person I'm speaking with the things that they do, that I so much appreciate. But there are certain things that I don't appreciate. And I try to go through what they are and why they create problems for me, and I try to make sure I get an agreement, then I often find that even though there appears to be an understanding and an agreement, the behavior continues. And then I have to now quickly call them on privately, not in front of people. The fact that very thing that I raised to them privately, has just continued, so that they could see more specifically when I'm speaking about. Now, I could do that with somebody that I trust, who's part of my value team. It's harder, if it's somebody that is constantly becoming a problem for you. And when that starts happening, they'll start seeing more and more things in writing from me.

Yeah, well, yeah, that you know, that's very practical, what you laid out there was so practical, and I think very reasonable as a leader, a, we're going to step up and address this, because if we don't address it, it's going to fester and get worse, right doesn't get better. Number two, we're going to be very specific. Here are the two things that you're doing. They're causing disruption that are causing morale problems. Three, I want your agreement, I want commitment from you that you hear me and that you're going to change. And then lastly, follow up. You know what, it's been two weeks. John, you've been doing a lot better. Thank you are you know what? I've noticed the same things, John, let's have another conversation. Beautiful. Again, kind of simple. But But it starts with addressing it. And with your personality and others. I know that you value listening. So there's this element, of course on the front end of listening to be sure that you're hearing from them appropriately and have a chance to share, but I love what you're saying because it's very applicable and very actionable for the folks that are listening. I'm going to switch gears and close it with two quick questions. Yeah.

I do want to mention one other thing related to this. Yeah, I really would encourage anybody that's about to get into a difficult conversation, to think it through before. Yeah, one of the things that we've learned is, for example, in the case of an emergency, the reason that you train is because you create muscle memory. And when I deal with my counsel and my staff, I say to them, you've got to prepare for that council meeting. Because the more prepared you are are in having the answers, the less likely you will be at getting flustered. You got it. Right. The same with interviewing, you got to have it in your mind. Same here, difficult conversation. Don't say, oh my gosh, I'm going to approach it right now and so mad. I know what you're getting into, you know how you're gonna approach it based on the personality of the person that you're addressing? Yeah,

yeah, we do. We do training on disk with our local governments. And so you've got di SC, dominant influence, support and conscientious. And for the, for the dominant these in the eyes, I'm an eye, our natural inclination is just to go with go with whatever is top of mind just to walk right in and just lay it out there. And I've had to learn, as I'm sure other eyes have that, hey, you know, sometimes you got to slow down, get a piece of paper out, write the steps down, think it through. And boy that's really served me well, it's messed me up a lot when I don't do it. So thank you for going back and sharing that that's a great point, I want to switch gears and talk about outcomes real quick, local, city managers, county managers, so forth, we've got objectives that help us reach our big goals. So objectives are like milestones, and you've got the goal, we're going to build a park, okay, inside that you've got all kinds of objectives, clear the land by the land, whatever. But then you have outcomes, like outcomes are like, Why are we doing this? Right? You know, what's the benefit? what's the, what's the intended change that we want to have happen when we reach the goal? If you build a park? Well, the goal might be the outcome might be improve healthy lifestyles, or advance healthy lifestyles in our community. So can you tell me just a little bit about how you think about strategic goals or strategic outcomes? How do you? How does your community sort of rank them? What are some of your the outcome strategic outcomes that y'all are aiming for in, in Carson?

So I'm going to confess that, um, we don't have a vision, mission and strategies here, vision, mission and priorities. And I've intended to work with the Council on that. And my intent, my best intentions never came to fruition because of COVID-19. So I'm not as organized in that regard. Having said that, I think that there is a clear vision that the city has, they talk about it, they always talk about safety, and, you know, really helping make sure families are here intact and successful and kids have things to do. There's a lot of, you know, agreed upon visions, but specifically to your issue. If you have a goal, but you don't know what your objective is, how do you change course, if something goes wrong, if you don't know where you're heading. So somebody that I work with said to me, when you start your day, you better think about where you're going, what's your direction. And I liken this to when I get into my car, if I don't know where I'm going, how do I know where to drive. So the goal is a really nice general idea. But if something goes wrong with the approach that you came up with, and you're not understanding the objective, how do you solve the problem. So you really need to understand what you're trying to obtain. So that you can get there in some other way if things go south. And actually, if you understand the objective, more people can be on the same page. Because usually, by understanding the objective, they have a better understanding of what their part is, in getting there. It's just clear communication, you know, you're talking about it is goal and objective. But you can just think about it as I just want my team to understand, we're talking about this. But really, it's to get us here. And we all need to be on the same page. So I would think about it as if you don't know where you're heading. Have. I'm gonna drive today, I'm gonna take a drive. My goal is to take a drive. Am I literally getting in the car and just driving anywhere? Or am I heading to a destination? It's that simple. It's really not very complicated.

Yeah, great. You know, I like you have a very practical nature about you, which I like a lot. You You take some sort of big ideas and make them very tangible. And I appreciate that about what you're saying. Because you're right, it's like, you know, let's just boil it down to where are we going? And why don't we want to get there and then let's, let's get on the way let's create our milestones and go. I know we have covered a lot of territory in this podcast. And, you know, again, our goal Our hope our wish dream is to equip and serve and inspire local government leaders. So when I say thank you to our listeners, of course who are listening, and thank you, especially Sharon for spending some of your time as I said, I know you're very busy with what's going on and it means a lot to us and the folks that are listening to have heard some of your thoughts and insights. My pleasure.

I love doing that. So Bill asked me back anytime you want. Alright,

sounds great. Have a wonderful day.

You too. Okay. Bye