When I began brainstorming another TAMIO Thoughts article six months ago, I threw around many ideas. I am a planner. I love making checklists and crossing off items; this makes me feel accomplished somehow. I also like to stay organized and always know what is coming. So, when I signed up to write my TAMIO Thoughts article a few months ago, I decided to write about Department Planning. However, something happened just yesterday that changed my mind. As communicators, not only do we have to be well educated and skilled in our craft, we also have to be servant leaders, especially as public communicators.
So, you may be thinking, but I am not a manager; how would the topic of servant leadership apply to me? The answer is simple and can be found within the ten attributes of a servant leader.
4. Commitment to team growth
6. Strong commitment to developing team interests
Do I have your attention yet?
The term ‘servant leader’ was first coined by Robert Greenleaf, founder of the 1964 nonprofit “Centre for Servant Leadership” and author of the 1970 essay “The Servant Leader.” The servant leader’s primary aim as by Greenleaf, is to serve the mass. Servant leaders are different when compared to others whose primary aim is to achieve the purpose of a company.
As a public communicator, your primary goal is to inform and engage with your residents (i.e., the masses). Here in Seabrook, the Office of Public Affairs’ mission statement is as follows: “Fostering an engaging culture in Seabrook by providing timely and accurate information to the community, hosting unique events and promoting tourism and economic growth.” Yes, it is a mouth full. Yes, this entire statement may not apply to your department as the statement is unique to Seabrook; however, “providing timely and accurate information to the community” is a blanket statement that applies to all city communicators.
Let’s take a deeper dive into each attribute of a servant leader and look at it from a communicator’s viewpoint.
Ask yourself, can you communicate if you don’t listen? Of course, not. Think back to your Communication Theory class in college. Remember the Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication? As communicators, we should be paying attention to what our residents are saying. As communicators, we serve as the ‘ears’ of our organization. Our job is to create the message, disseminate the message, wade through the noise, and then listen to the feedback. Listening is a process. As a mother to a toddler, I have had many conversations about using your listening ears. As adults, using our listening ears is just as important, if not more important, than when we were three years old.
Your Finance department should keep you in check in these areas, but it is your job to be good stewards of public funds. This includes purchasing video equipment, software subscriptions, and so much more.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As a communicator, we respond to questions, concerns, and remarks daily and it is empathy that helps us craft our responses in a way that connects with the public.
- Commitment to team growth
You may only be a one- or two-person shop within your organization, but every department is on your team when you serve as a communicator. It is essential for us to take on responsibilities and support the entire organization.
If you don’t like the word persuade or tend to think of annoying vendors making a cold call when you hear this word, then swap it with the word “influence .” The content we create influences our community.
- Strong commitment to developing team interests
Getting to know the interests and behaviors of your community helps to establish trust.
I have been in this business for many, many years. In fact, I have been a public communicator for 16 years now. I am now more aware of my weaknesses and bias than I was 16 years ago. Time has made me more self-aware, and I am now better at navigating difficult situations.
As a communicator, you should do your best to predict engagement trends based on the topic of conversation, especially on social media.
Foresight comes from knowing your community’s past and present issues and topics. For example, understanding the negative issues surrounding past bond elections will help you communicate better for an upcoming bond election.
Finally, your co-workers are your support system. Create strong and trusted relationships to help you heal from failures and emotional issues.
The motto of servant leadership is to serve and not to lead. Public communicators should strive to be servants of their community. After all, the term “public servant” applies to municipal employees. A great public communicator can reach great heights of success when they start seeing things through the eyes of their community.
LeaAnn Dearman Petersen, CPC
TAMIO Region 3 Director
Director of Public Affairs
City of Plano