LWG Interview with Ron Holifield, CEO – Strategic Government Resources & Author, 4th Dimension Leadership: A Radical Strategy for Creating An Authentic Servant Leadership Culture
By LWG Editor
Recently, we talked with Ron Holifield, former city manager, CEO of Strategic Government Resources AND author of 4th Dimension Leadership: A Radical Strategy for Creating An Authentic Servant Leadership Culture. Ron shared his thoughts on being a city manager and consultant, his views on local government and what prompted him to write a book. Here is the interview:
1. Before the founding of Strategic Government Resources, you worked in local government in a variety of positions including City Manager. What made you choose a career in public service? I always thought I would have a career in public service all the way back to my high school days. Deep down inside I believe that we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. Public service in general, and local government in particular, is the most direct way to do that.
2. You still work primarily with local government clients, anything you miss about being a City Manager? What I miss the most is the ability to move the system directly to make things better for communities. I still take pride all of these years later in remembering the things I was able to do that affected people’s lives directly as a city manager.
3. What concerns you the most and excited you the most about the future of local government? I have two major concerns about the future of local government. The first is that national politics driven by the twin pillars of “stupid and proud of it” and “hateful and proud of it” are now polluting local politics as well. This has created a brutal political environment in which both elected and appointed public servants are under constant attack merely because they wanted to serve their communities and make them better. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to get ACM’s to be willing to take on the role of City Manager. When you combine this with the large number of baby boomer managers retiring, there is a rapidly growing talent shortage for the top spot. At the same time, I am very enthusiastic about the wave of young professionals who are preparing themselves to step into leadership roles. The challenge is that organizations must accelerate the way they invest in leadership development to speed up the readiness of young professionals to move through the pipeline.
4. What prompted you to write 4th Dimension Leadership: A Radical Strategy for Creating An Authentic Servant Leadership Culture? Ronald Reagan said “People say there are no simple solutions. There are simple solutions, they just are not easy solutions.” That quote really sums up where we are when it comes to leadership development in local government. What we are doing is not working well but we keep doing it because of resistance to change. The solution really is as simple as defining the culture you want, and creating an aligned system of systems which are rigorously complied with to make it authentic. Although it is simple, changing culture is not easy. The forces of mediocrity offer incredible resistance and it takes a leader with clarity of vision and incredible determination to overcome the resistance. I felt like there was a real need to provide a simple roadmap for transforming organizations.
5. In the book, you write about being willing to disrupt the status quo in order to create something better. What do you mean by that? The simple fact is that we cannot get better by staying the same. And the forces of mediocrity always defend the status quo. You have to have the vision, the strength of character and the passion to disrupt the forces of mediocrity who defend the status quo if you are going to get better.
6. In addition to the management consulting projects your company does, SGR is also a leading executive recruiting firm in local government, what is your best advice to someone who is seeking their first city management position?
First understand that the transition from ACM to City Manager is not about technical skills but about emotional skills. Until you have “sat in the seat” it is difficult to really understand that the nature of the city manager role is that it can be an incredibly “alone” position. It takes great strength of character and great emotional intelligence to thrive in that role. Many people who become one time city managers and never do it again are those who were not ready for the emotional aspects of serving as city manager. To prepare for that, seek out city managers who you admire and want to emulate and spend time with them. Most great city managers feel a deep desire to help raise up the next generation of city managers and are willing to invest time in you. Second, understand that leadership style matters, and understand what yours really is. Communities and organizations have life cycles, and need different leadership styles at different points in their life cycles. If you are a steady systems builder and you go to an organization which needs a dramatic change agent, you will not thrive. Same thing if you are a dramatic change agent and you go to an organization that needs a steady hand to build systems. And third, don’t get in such a rush to become a City Manager that you take on a city where the city manager is doomed to fail. Look at the career trajectories of people who have been in that particular position before. Some jobs are career launching pads and some are graveyards. Look for the former, avoid the latter
7. Final thoughts to share with our readers?
Public service is a noble calling that profoundly affects people’s lives. Never forget that “It is not about me and it is not about now.” Live up to the nobility of your calling.
To purchase a copy of Ron’s book at the LWG member rate of $12.95 instead of $14.95 on Amazon, CLICK HERE. .
Ron Holifield is the Founder and CEO of SGR. He previously served as Assistant City Manager in Plano, Texas as well as City Manager in Garland, DeSoto, Farmersville and Sundown, and on the City Manager’s staff in Lubbock.
In 1996, he left city management and purchased Government Relations Specialists which he grew into the 49th largest lobby firm in Texas, before selling it to an employee. In 1999, Ron founded Strategic Government Resources to specialize in facilitating collaboration among local governments, with a particular emphasis in employee training and development of next generation leaders.
He has grown SGR into the largest private sector training company that specializes in leadership, management and customer service for local governments in the nation. He is a frequent speaker at state and national conferences and remains high profile in the city management profession.
Ron holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Abilene Christian University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Texas Tech University.