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Author: Leanne Reed

My Passion and Gift:  Helping Local Governments Achieve Excellence

My last posting was about “Who am I inspired to serve?” This article is my personal answer.

I have been a member of the Federal Government workforce (20 year Coast Guard career) and a consultant to them (first-ever Executive Capstone Program for the Department of Homeland Security;  FY 2024-28 Strategic Plan for the US Marshals Service) for many years.

My heart, though, is with local governments. With exceptions, their work is more often the direct delivery of services rather than policy creation and implementation. A City or County Manager is responsible for everything in that jurisdiction (Public Safety; Economic Development; Parks and Recreation; Public Works; Family Services; Courts; Permitting; and more). Interestingly, I feel that they are more easily accountable as you may run into them at the grocery store.

Therefore, I feel my investment of time and expertise is more impactful and rewarding with this group.

In short, I help them take “the journey to excellence”.

WIIFM:  What results can come from their committing to the journey?

  • The organization retains its’ “all stars” and they feel valued/equipped for excellence
  • The employees bring energy, commitment, and “their whole self” to the organization
  • Clients feel delighted (with the outcome and the experience) and they bring the organization new opportunities and partnerships
  • The organization has/uses a vision and strategic plan to guide its’ management and budgeting philosophy and decisions
  • The Core Values drive the behavioral/social norms to achieving the desired culture
  • The organization’s reputation and financial standing are solid and enduring

Since 2005, I have worked with most of the northern Virginia local governments (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Herndon, Manassas Park, Prince William, and Vienna) and College Park, Maryland. The topics have included Executive Coaching/Leadership, Strategic Planning, Core Values, Employee Engagement and Performance, Customer Delight, Measurement, Leading Change, and training for all the above). The umbrella starting point for this is our 8 piece puzzle framework that describes Organizational Excellence.

In 2016, I started partnering with the International City and County Managers Association (ICMA). Presenting at their International and Regional/State conferences has helped me broaden my impact – across many local governments in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. I do interactive and applied four hour workshops on Strategy (“Delivering Great Results from your Vision and Strategic Plan”) and Culture (“Shaping the Culture of Your Organization”) at these events. I’m pleased to say that my upcoming Strategy workshop at the Austin conference is completely full with 50 City Managers and senior staff.

It’s taken me awhile to laser focus here, but this is my calling.  It’s not easy, though. There are many issues to navigate. I have a proven approach and deep experience in applying it that can help any local government whose leadership (that includes Councils, Boards of Supervisors, etc.) wants to improve and is committed to putting forth the resources and energy to take the journey and reap the rewards.

I’m happy to share more about the Organizational Excellence framework. Please let me know if you or anyone you know needs, wants, or is curious about this journey.

Why are So many leaders … So bad?

This “issue” has intrigued me for a long time. I’ll bet that we’ve all had at least one … or maybe more than our share.

I’ve seen them across all sectors of the workplace – Federal government, local government, commercial/private sector, not-for-profits, and academia.

We know what they look like. We know what it feels like to work for them. We know the damage that they cause/inflict – on individuals, teams, and organizations.

So, why are they that way? Several reasons:

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So … Mr./Ms. Leader, How do you Measure Yourself?

There are tons of leadership (and management) inventories and assessments.

I prefer to use questions that reflect the everyday work life.

Your Reputation:

  • Do people smile when you enter the room? Or smile when you leave the room?
  • What five adjectives would you use to describe your leadership style?
  • What three adjectives would people use to describe your leadership style?
  • Do high performers want to join your team?
  • Do you collaborate well with others … or are you “Mr./Ms. Silo”?

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Who Cares About Graduations?

May and June are the months for graduations. Do you remember yours? Those of your children? Who was the graduation speaker? I had one of the worst – Spiro Agnew. My daughter had one of the best –  John Stewart.

Many universities, colleges, and high schools have rituals and traditions that are ingrained in their commencement ceremonies. These make the ceremony special and more memorable. It also increases your emotional bond with that institution. Those graduating from military academies throw their caps in the air. We (Coast Guard Academy graduates) had to give a silver dollar to the first person saluting us after becoming an officer. Not sure where you would find those now.

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Flowers = Caring = Engagement

May is the month for flowers. Washington D.C. is particularly beautiful in the late April/May timeframe.

I recently got up super early to go see the cherry blossoms (and get a parking spot) before sunrise. It was cold and windy, but was one of those special events. There’s a whole hillside of the National Arboretum that’s really spectacular during the height of the azaleas. And the area around the U. S. Capitol and Union Station is particularly pretty (both trees and flowers) during this time of year.

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We all know the saying that the only things certain in life are Death and Taxes.  Well, my March blog article was on Cancer. This April one is on Taxes.

The word “taxes” spurs all kinds of emotions. Most of us have experienced the whole range of them (what would happen if we take out the “n”)?

My early career was as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard (Federal government). My  last 15 years have been helping local governments. Both are focused on delivering services to the American public. Both use taxes to fund their operations.

My partner Ellen used to tell our classes “I’m just like you. I want the maximum services for the minimum taxes”. Finding that balance is a constant challenge for the local governments I work with. Some engage and challenge their citizens to help in identifying that balance.

The City of Round Rock, Texas used an on-line tool to involve citizens in budgetary decision making and service provision.  Asked them to rate services and assign budgetary support based on a forced choice model (identifying the level of service as a “Corolla”, “Camry”, or “Lexus”).

HOW WILL WE?: There are other aspects to this issue. People are generally more accepting of paying their taxes if they believe they are necessary and reasonable. I help local government leaders create a clear strategic plan and management system … then align the budget to that. This matters because people can more clearly see the organizational priorities and how the funding allocations support that.

HOW DID WE?: Beyond saying how we plan to use the funding, we should also clearly describe how we HAVE used the funding. More and more jurisdictions are doing that – often using pie charts.

SERVICE DELIVERY: But, what it really comes down to is “Do I feel I get the services I’m paying for in an  effective and efficient manner?”  Local government leaders have a duty to bring the right people into their organization, care about them, and equip them to excel at doing the organization’s work.

During my last Coast Guard assignment, I found and posted in my office a newspaper headline that said “Lest we forget”. We are servants of not only the public’s trust, but also their money.

Hopefully, I’ve painted a picture. It takes collaboration between several groups to make the intent of taxes successful in real life. 

  • Councils/Boards of Supervisors create the strategic direction with citizen and staff input
  • City/County Managers propose budgets which align with and support that vision and desired level of service delivery
  • Leadership (multiple levels) uses various methods to communicate how the funding will support the strategy and how the funding was used, and
  • ALL of the City/County staff is dedicated to delivering the best quality and timeliness of services

Our governments (Federal, state, and local) need taxes to perform their mission(s).  My call to action is to take a systemic approach to ensure we are treating this as essential, not as a necessary evil.


The University of Connecticut (UCONN) Women’s Basketball Team has been the definition of Excellence for nearly 40 years. Much of this is due to the leadership and culture built by the Head Coach Geno Auriemma  and Assistant Head Coach Chris Dailey.

EXCELLENCE: In this stretch, the team has had:

  • 6 perfect seasons
  • 11 National (NCAA) titles
  • 34 straight NCAA tournaments (since 1989)
  • 22 Final Fours
  • 14 straight Final Fours
  • 21 Big East Conference championships
  • 10 straight Conference Tournament championships
  • Separate winning streaks of 111, 90, and 70 in a row

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I have Cancer. This month makes 8 years since we found out about it.

I’m not sure how to acknowledge that. Is it an anniversary? Something to celebrate? What emotions am I feeling? Truthfully … I’m not sure.

It’s called a Gastro Intestinal Strombal Tumor (GIST). For awhile I had difficulty remembering that so I did what I usually do and create an association. In this case it was “stromboli”.

The tumor has caused a number of other complications (serious, cosmetic, pride)  – both on its own as well as from the side effects of the medications.

We found it by accident. There were no warning signals. We have not been able to find the cause.

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It’s February.  What an interesting month.

The excitement of the holidays is long past. Some of the resolutions and plans have already faded off the screen. It’s usually the worst weather of the year (cold, wind, snow). We feel trapped inside.

There are things to celebrate. The Chinese New Year occasionally falls in February. Black History Month highlights the achievements and history of African-Americans. Valentine’s Day reminds us to send and receive all kinds of love. President’s Day salutes two of our best – Lincoln and Washington – although we combine it into one day. And occasionally, we celebrate Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday in February.

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