Attention all City Managers: If you have the opportunity to attend the Harvard Kennedy Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program, I have one word for you: GO!
This past June, with the support of my City and CCMF, I was able to attend this amazing program. The program requires a real commitment: three weeks away from your family and your job. But this separation gives you space to concentrate on the only real tasks of the program: expanding your horizons, challenging your biases, seeing the world differently, taking risks, and choosing courage over comfort.
The learning environment is well-planned and tended. Students are thoughtfully selected to ensure a diverse class so multiple perspectives abound on every topic. The professors use the entirety of their three weeks with you. All students are engaged–if you attend, you participate. I guarantee that you will occasionally feel stretched beyond your comfort zone. Through it all, you are developing new friendships with 50 to 60 executives from various state and local roles from throughout the U.S. and other countries.
The program teaches practical skills and challenges your thinking with case studies that have no single answer. The days start early with team study sessions and you spend the full day in classrooms. Your evenings and weekends will be spent reading (hint: do as much reading as you can before you arrive, as it is hard to keep up!) while still finding time to socialize with your classmates and explore Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A few thoughts I’m still pondering from the program include: “What is leadership? Can someone be a leader or is it a characteristic one displays at times? How does leadership diverge from scope of authority? Why is it that Americans love their country but distrust their government? What’s my role in addressing this contradiction? What am I willing to do on behalf of what I care deeply about in order to make progress?” I find I enjoy having all of these ideas floating around in my consciousness, and they have begun to influence my decision-making and behavior.
Just as importantly, this program helped me strengthen a number of skills: strategic planning, creating strong teams, avoiding group think, and negotiating, just to name a few. But perhaps the most significant takeaway was the connections I made with other executives. I’ve already reached out to members of my cohort for guidance and insight on a number of topics. There is something special about working hard and playing hard with a group of passionate individuals that forms a deep bond, which benefits us personally and the communities we serve.