With the Executive out of town on an adventure I am sure we will all hear about, I have been asked to be this week’s guest blogger! And if you know anything about me, I am my least favorite subject, but I am also a rule follower who drew the short straw.
To my knowledge, I’m the only Pierce County employee to ever serve at the leadership level in the Legislative and Executive branches. I was former Chair Richardson’s Council Assistant for 7 years, Executive Dammeier’s Executive Assistant for 2 years and now sit on his team as the Legislative Affairs Advisor.
In these roles, I’ve seen policy development, strategic planning, budgeting, and public engagement from an initial idea to implementation. What I get asked the most is, “how do you work with so many competing interests and personalities?” People are intrigued by the world of politics and the perception of constant gridlock and fighting. Fortunately, at the local level, the reality is far less juicy. I learned very quickly that the secret to getting things done is by dropping assumptions and bringing back kindness.
I have a sign in my office that says, Always be kinder than you feel. It’s like a good bottle of wine because the advice seriously gets better with time, especially in this post-pandemic era.
Kindness is especially important in our work because everyone has a story. The customer in tears at the Clerk’s Office, the frustrated person contesting their property tax statement at the Assessor-Treasurer’s office, or the obviously flustered person in the elevator trying to find the right courtroom. They all have a backstory and a reason to be having a hard day or moment or year. And now there’s a COVID story to add on top.
Adding a moment of kindness into someone’s day has a huge ripple effect and can disarm tension. I work with elected officials and their staff every day on sometimes heated issues, but we are all people not titles. My sign helps me refocus and I try to be kinder than I maybe feel in the moment. I’ve found this invaluable when trying to find compromise in a deadlock.
When thinking about writing today’s blog, I remembered a County Council retreat several years back. We had finished our work for the day and a few Councilmembers and staff stuck around to have dinner together. Then-Chair Joyce McDonald and newer Councilmember Connie Ladenburg sat together, which interested me knowing they were from opposite parties.
I saw two strong women let down their guard and break bread together. They discussed their kids and grandkids, summer plans and home projects, they talked like old friends. And I overheard them say to one another, “let’s try to always remember that we are both moms, wives, and sisters. We are both trying to do the right thing for our families and Pierce County, even if that means we disagree on the ‘how.'”
That conversation I overhead stuck with me. Even when you really disagree with someone, it doesn’t have to be personal. Fewer assumptions and more communication are always better choices.
Sometimes we need tools to help support this effort, just like I have my sign to remind me. I would highly recommend checking out the HR Leadership Certification program or exploring one of the many LinkedIn Learning courses if this is an area you want to grow in. When in doubt, you can also think WWMMD (What Would Maura Maye Do). ?
I truly enjoy getting to work closely with the Executive departments and elected branches, seeing your great work at all levels of the County. In a world where we can be anything, let’s be kind.
Alice McDaniel is Legislative Affairs Advisor for the Office of the Executive