Lessons learned from the leadership breakout sessions Oct. 21

Leadership puzzle pieceAt the Leadership Development Conference Oct. 21, managers, supervisors, and other informal leaders at the Iowa DOT came together for a day-long event focused on developing their leadership skills.

Some of the most impactful parts of the day were the sessions where small groups of leaders gathered to identify barriers and then brainstorm solutions in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, performance measurement, culture, and communication.

While some great discussion and ideas came out of these sessions, conference attendees are not the only ones responsible for improving our agency. Everyone has the ability to make improvements that help the Iowa DOT become smarter, simpler, and customer driven. Over the next few weeks, blog posts will be added to let you in on what was discussed in each of the five topic areas. Please use these posts to continue conversations in your work unit.

Today’s topic is leadership.

The top three barriers to leadership at the Iowa DOT, as identified by participants in these sessions were:

  • Buy-in for changes from both staff and management.
  • Lack of resources/time/staff.
  • Negative attitudes.

A few weeks after the session was over, Gary Harris and Brennan Dolan, both with the Office of Location and Environment, and Roger Parker, with the Information Technology Division, sat down to discuss the breakout session on leadership and the possible solutions to these barriers that they took away from the discussions. Solutions to these three barriers focused on improved technology, communication, and collaboration/empowerment as keys to improving leadership, both formal and informal, at the Iowa DOT.

Brennan tightDolan specifically hit on technology used in new ways to combat a lack of resources to do what we used to do in the normal course of business. He said, “In our office, we’ve leveraged several updates in technology to do things differently. We needed to understand that the attitude of doing something the same way just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ doesn’t work anymore. Even those of us who are not supervisors can be leaders and take risks to find improved ways to get things done. It’s a smarter way to complete our day-to-day business.”

Roger Parker tightParker echoed Dolan’s idea that “traditionalism” needs to be questioned. In commenting on gaining acceptance from employees when a new way of doing business is introduced, he said, “I think we can do a much better job of communicating expectations when making changes. No one likes to have their routine changed for no good reason. If a change is needed, we need to be proactive in communicating why the change is being implemented. The team’s honest input is key to tracking results to verify that the change is accomplishing our goals.”

In getting the buy-in for a change, Parker says he thinks face-to-face communications is the best way to get a team to accept and actually be excited about a change. “Sometimes talking about a change can take more courage to do in person,” he said. “What happens if the team pushes back? That’s where we as leaders need to be prepared to have open, honest conversations. Those conversations build relationships that, in turn, build trust. What we don’t want to do is just send an email and assume that no response means the team is on board because the written word can be misconstrued and trust can be undermined.”

Gary HarrisAs a leader in his office who is not a supervisor, Harris agrees with the face-to-face communication approach. In the last year, he and two other OLE employees developed “The OLE Way.” The three came up with a document outlining the way we all want to be treated at work that they discussed with their co-workers. Harris said, “Our staff represents a wide variety of disciplines and age groups. Our team members include both men and women from various generations. That diversity presents a challenge, but in the end we all want to be treated with respect. That’s what we’ve been discussing over the past year. Now every employee has signed on to our core office values as a minimum of how to thrive.”  

The Leadership Development Conference provided a way for leaders around the Iowa DOT to discuss issues that are occurring around the department. “We’re all so busy that it isn’t easy to take a whole day just to talk about these issues,” said Dolan. “But they are important and new ideas need to be brought up in a larger group than just our office.”

Parker agrees, but adds, “There was value and benefit to the event itself, but the real benefits will come when we take what was discussed and all work to integrate it into our everyday jobs – to make it real.”

Although it was developed before the conference, Harris and the OLE Way are a real way to start conversations that could have a profound impact on the day-to-day operations at the Iowa DOT. Everyone wants to come to a job they can enjoy not endure. Is there something you can do today that will impact your work unit in a positive way?

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