2013 Leadership Summit

Leaders aren't born — they are developed

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Leaders don’t have to be born into a royal family; they aren’t always elected; they don’t require graduation from prestigious universities. At ITD, many leaders assume the role by quietly doing their best and inspiring others to do the same.

It requires an attitude of selfless service that is contagious

Being a leader is about making those around you better, Director Brian Ness told 200 ITD employees assembled for the second annual Leadership Summit, Oct. 1.

“You may say to yourself, how can I be a leader? I may not supervise anybody. I’m not up there giving speeches on behalf of the department. I just want to come to work every day to do my job and do it well.

“That may well define what a leader is all about. Coming to work, doing your job and doing it well, setting the example for those around you. Providing direction and going in the same direction as we’re headed in this department.”

“I think most importantly, being a leader is about improving the people around you, making them better and making the workplace better”.

Those attending – recognized leaders and those aspiring to fill that role – had several basic responsibilities, the director charged: to learn and network, to come to work with a commitment to doing their work well, encouraging others and being a positive role model for others as the department transitions to a constructive culture.

That kind of approach will help move ITD’s culture from one that is a combination of aggressive/defensive and passive/defensive to the desired, constructive attributes that find work self-fulfilling, and rewarding, supportive and satisfied with the accomplishments of a collective effort.

Ness reminded employees how far ITD has come in four years when it operated under a dark cloud of intense scrutiny, from a legislative audit, a Governor’s Executive order, a poor image portrayed in the news media and criticism among customers.

That cloud has passed, and today ITD is well on the way to becoming a model for other state agencies and a national transportation leader. He referred to a joint resolution during the last legislative session that praised the department’s performance and to an ever-growing list of national awards and honors.

ITD began the turnaround through realignment and establishing a new, simplified Strategic Plan that had three basic elements: Operating the safest transportation department possible, providing mobility for travelers, and constant improvement through efficiency, customer service and investing in employees.

“Each of the goals has specific, measurable expectations… every employee at ITD should be able to find themselves in at least one of those goals, if not all three of the goals in the strategic plan. “

Ness singled out several employees as leaders in their workplace simply by how they approach their jobs, specifically mentioning Kathleen Hall, who works in the mailroom. Her work is essential to the success of the department, the director said.

“I want to thank Kathleen for really taking the time to see how she fits into the overall operation of the department. And I challenge everybody to do that. Even if you think what you do – working by yourself, doing your own thing – is insignificant, every decision you make impacts what happens in the department.

“There is no position in this department that isn’t important. The positions that are here are very, very important to everything we do.”

Many of those positions will become vacant in the next five years as ITD continues to “age.” Half of the workforce will be eligible to retire within the next five years, Ness said, and that will require new leaders to fill the voids in experience and institutional knowledge.

“The great tsunami is about to hit,” he said.

A succession plan will be essential to maintaining ITD’s momentum. The succession plan will require:

  • Workforce planning,
  • Better compensation and classification with horizontal career ladders,
  • Ongoing challenges to operate efficiently (rethinking the work load to achieve savings without sacrificing our level of customer service)
  • Training and mentoring, and
  • Recruiting the best candidates and retaining the best employees

“One thing you can say for sure is that the department of the next 30 years is probably going to look a little bit different than what the department looked like the past 30 years.”

Director Ness also discussed efforts to improve highway safety, the role ITD plays in the state’s economic prosperity, the need for additional revenue to maintain the transportation system and continued customer service. He continued to challenge employees to move ITD closer to being a “yes” agency.

When dealing with customers, we have to say ‘yes, if,’ rather than ‘no, because…’ We don’t want to be that ‘no’ agency. We want to be the agency that does everything we can to get to ‘yes.’ We want to treat our customer’s right. The answer may not always be yes, but if they can see that we’re trying to get there, that goes a long way to providing exceptional customer service.”

“… we don’t want to be the agency that’s looked at as the old ‘no’ agency, you don’t want to be the person that’s looked at as the ‘no’ person. You want to be looked at as the person who can get things done.

“So your charge is to get things done, to work towards yes. Remember the messages you hear today, take that information back to your area, and implement the things you want to do through the implementation plan you will develop.

“If you do your part, and everybody at ITD pulls together we will continue on our quest to becoming the best transportation department in the country … maybe the best transportation department in the world,” Ness said.

Published 10-11-13