One advantage of working for a variety of top administrators is the opportunity it provides to study their management styles -- their strengths and weaknesses. I made notes on the men and women I worked for like I was sitting in a grad school class. It probably explains my three re-elections as well as anything else I can think of.
When I worked under Dr. Bennie Carmichael, I learned thoroughness. He put all the facts together before launching a project. He was an old Marine officer and knew how important it was to perfect your battle plan.
Frances Wyatt supervised me the four years I was a school social worker.
She taught me that effective compassion requires the ability to control one’s emotions, especially anger. She was not impressed by maudlin emotions that could not be hitched to the cart of a child’s welfare.
Former mayor A.L. “Chunk” Bender was the best practical politician I worked under. He taught me that it is necessary to immerse yourself in a job to be effective. He lived, breathed and ate politics. After work he would sometimes hold forth with political allies down at Old South until every other politician was snoozing on his roost pole. It honed his political intuition to a razor-sharp edge.
Mayor Ralph Kelley’s strength was motivating his staff. He had the courage to dream big and to make you feel you could do any job that needed doing.
I never sat down and talked with him a single time that I was not inspired. When I was county executive I would take him to lunch when I needed a shot of inspiration mixed well with common sense.
County Judge Chester Frost had a flair for finances. He knew where every dollar came from and how it was budgeted. His memory for those facts never failed to amaze me.
In observing your supervisors, you sometimes learn what not to do. County Judge Don Moore did not like criticisms of his ideas. I observed from the beginning of his administration that he ignored those who told him hard truths. Such a habit makes one especially vulnerable to flattery.
One Sunday when I went to the office to do some work, he came and got me and took me to this large work room where he had stacks of paper containing a bill to centralize most of county government under the county judge. As I read it, I shuddered. I knew that powerful county office holders would oppose his bill with every resource at their command. I knew this issue could be his downfall.
Radiating confidence, he asked me what I thought and I told him Trustee Bill Nobles and others would go to the mat with him to stop his plan. He snatched the papers out of my hand and said, “I didn’t expect you to understand!”
His problem was that I did understand and my problem was that he did not want to hear it. It was the beginning of my end as county manager. In time, he was able to get the votes to fire me.
After I was elected and started interviewing department heads, I told them all the same thing: “When you think I am right, I expect your loyalty and support. When you think I am wrong, I expect you to come and tell me. If you don’t tell me and let me get in trouble, I will hold you accountable.”
I often said I over-trained my staff. In our staff meetings they would grill me over anything I proposed. By the time I got through their merciless analysis, I knew every possible criticism that could be made of our projects. I am sure they saved my neck more times than once.
C.C. Colton summed it all up when he wrote, “Power multiplies flatterers and flatterers multiply our delusions by hiding us from ourselves.”
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