Jim Schutz Reflects on Harvard Leadership Program

Jim Schutz, City Manager of San Rafael

As a city manager, making smart decisions about how I use my time is one of the most important things I do. So, for me, taking a week off work and leaving my family behind to travel across the country into a snow storm to attend an executive seminar isn’t an automatic “sign me up!” But I can honestly say that it was the best possible use of my time and I am still basking in the glow of the experience even a few weeks later.

Harvard faculty David Eaves served as our MC for the week. Harvard says David is a “public policy entrepreneur and expert in information technology and government” but he also has the skills of a master facilitator, strategic advisor, stand-up comic, and because he is Canadian, he is also a really nice guy. David, and the excellent Harvard staff, guided our class of 60 (about half and half from US and international) through a week of Digital Transformation in Government: Innovating Public Policy and Service.

What I previously knew about the Harvard program was the great things I heard about the three-week program called Senior Executives in State and Local Government. That sounds amazing but I have 14-year old twins and they are changing so fast I worried if I was gone for three weeks, that I’d return home and find them driving or getting married or something. I needed something a little shorter. I also needed something that was going to stir my soul and maximize the impact.

For me, that was digital transformation. But for you, it could be leadership, women and power, decision making and negotiation, leading economic growth, crisis management, performance management, or many more options.

The digital transformation curriculum included government as a platform, artificial intelligence, digital security, privacy, risk, bias, equity, power and responsibility in digital government, and others. As the only city manager in the group, it was fascinating to understand the varied perspectives of my fellow students.

The material also validated some of what we are doing at my city, such as our organizational culture change effort called “Together San Rafael.” Together San Rafael has guiding principles that are very much in line with the Harvard teachings including human centered design, delivery-driven government, agile as opposed to waterfall project development, iteration, open data, tolerance for failure, and a Build-Measure-Learn philosophy.

It also gave me new ways of thinking about the workplan for a new city department that we created a few months before – the Department of Digital Service and Open Government. “Digital,” as we call it, is a peer and strategic partner to all city departments as we reimagine services and become a 21st century government. I had many pages of notes of how to focus Digital in the coming months and years.

My extreme gratitude to CCMF for their support and generosity, my city and colleagues for support and keeping things rolling while I was away, my fellow students and everyone connected with the Harvard program.

So, go find the Harvard program that moves you and apply. One tip is to make the time to do all the reading before you arrive, so you can enjoy the rare off hours and get to know people and the campus. One night I sat in on a chat with author/historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and the next night by Gina Raimondo, the Governor of Rhode Island – who just happened to be scheduled in the open forum right outside our classroom.

And if you see David, ask him what his favorite sci-fi/thriller TV show is. Hint, it’s Canadian.

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