The New Haven Train Station Has Two Dunkin’ Donuts

Union Station, New Haven Connecticut

Every time I think about the train station in New Haven, I remember the two Dunkin’ Donuts and laugh. We typically visit New York City from the Boston area a few times a year, and the best travel plan for us is to drive to New Haven and take the commuter train into the City. The whole trip takes about four hours, we don’t have to drive in Manhattan, and the commuter line is cheaper and runs more often than Amtrak. As a result, we have spent a lot of time over the years rushing through the station to buy tickets, get coffee, and make the train. We are always perilously on the edge of missing the express, and the line for DD is very long.

And then, the kids discovered that there is a tiny, secret, Dunkin Donuts at the bottom of the stairs that never has a line. I wouldn’t even risk mentioning it on this blog, but no one can travel right now so I think our secret is safe. I just hope the DD is still there when we can go back to NYC.

In our family, we love to travel. Over the past decade we have been to NYC a lot, and both kids lived in DC for a total of eight years so we went there A LOT too. When we visit familiar places, we instantly set up routines. When we are in DC we run or walk to the Lincoln Memorial, without fail. We typically stay in the same section of any city, find a local pub and market, and settle in. Even in new places, we value the familiar.

We prioritize family summer vacations, and trips to Europe in lieu of Christmas or graduation gifts. We spend hours enjoying the planning, and years savoring the memories. Even before the pandemic paused our travel schedule, we would spend hours over family dinners reminiscing and repeating – to the chagrin of those who were not along for that trip – all of the inside jokes until we cry laughing. Just mention the secret Dunkin Donuts to my kids and you will see this in action.

New York, NY 2017

But my point about the special Dunkin’s is not just that it earned a mention in my older daughter’s 2014 Christmas Poem (although it did, and I have generously included an excerpt below), or that it continues to provide joy and laughter in our armchair vacationing (although it does). It strikes me that the second DD stands for the idea that the obvious way to achieve a goal – like standing in a long line but risking missing your train – may not be the only way forward.

I don’t know about you, but practically the only thing on my “20 for 20” list that was achievable during a pandemic was “Read War & Peace” and I didn’t even manage to do that. So many of our dream projects at work are on hold due to finances, the pandemic, or the social climate. With that second Dunkin’s in mind, I am searching for new ways to achieve some of my goals.

I downloaded Kindle to my phone, where it is surprisingly easy to start making progress on great Russian literature. Instead of skipping exercise because I am in a nine month running funk, I plan walks that are twice the running distance for approximately the same result. I don’t want to do my 30 minute strength training on dark winter mornings, but I can do half. At work I am scanning the strengths of the staff we already have, hoping to find a way to make incremental progress on issues like climate change or public art installation with no new headcount in our future. If you can think of a way for me to get the children’s book on local government out of my head and onto paper, I would be eternally grateful.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC 2017

Here is your excerpt from the 2014 Poem. You’re welcome.

“There were good times to be had at the New Haven Train Station
An excellent place to start a quick two-day vacation.
Though saddened the Dunkin’s line was out the door,
We discovered a secret one on the bottom floor!”

How about you? Have you found an unusual way to meet a goal? Are you starving for travel? Would you miss the express train for an ice coffee?

Let’s Practice – travel guide and turkey leg in hand. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday’s Child…

Mug with Joyful Pens, Holliston, Massachusetts

You have probably heard the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child” but here is a refresher. The lyrics were first published in A. E. Bray’s Traditions of Devonshire in 1838.

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

There is Joy in Autumn in New England even in 2020

I am a big fan of personality tests of all kinds. I have found that there is always something to be learned from taking a test (I like taking tests as much as I like making lists) and reviewing the overarching themes. The Myers Briggs indicator (ESFJ – “the persuader”) reminds me to slow down in interactions with those who tend more to introversion. Reviewing the traits of an Enneagram 3 (“achiever” or “performer)” cautions me to – you guessed it – slow down and stop trying to achieve all the time.

Of course, when we review personality test data, we often ascribe the meaning that we prefer when there is room for interpretation. One of my children, born on a Tuesday and prone to tripping, reminds me that there are multiple meanings for the word “grace.”

So even nursery rhyme personality tests interest me. I come from a family of geniuses. Seriously, my parents and siblings got the intellectual genes. I always needed to work hard and with persistence to keep up. Obviously, I was born on a Saturday. And I do feel like I have had to work hard for a living.

In her outstanding book Grit, Angela Duckworth asserts that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a blend of passion and persistence she calls grit. “Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going. ” Does that sound familiar?

In our local government world, I know many colleagues with brilliant minds. But I am most comforted by the camaraderie of the huge number of us who got where we are through grit – and remain on the treadmill. Interestingly, pandemic leadership values grit over talent. If there were ever a work treadmill, this is it. Especially now, we simply keep going. Here’s to you my fellow plodders – this is our time.

How about you? On what day of the week were you born? Care to share any Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or other personality test tips that have helped you in your career? Let’s practice – heads high, one step at a time.

One more picture of fall in Holliston because can we really have enough joy?

Side note: While researching the nursery rhyme, I came across the poetry of Countee Cullen, noted poet of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem, about another child born on a Saturday, compares the lives of those born into wealth and those born into poverty. It’s a topical read.

Second side note: Did you ever put fall leaves between sheets of wax paper and then iron them? What was the point of that?

Stand Up, Very Kate

Statue Standing Up in the Secret Garden, Holliston, MA

I was listening to Rachel Hollis’s podcast Rise a month or two ago, and she called on women, especially leaders, to stand up. She noted that the pandemic was keeping a lot of us down, literally, but that we need to step up. We raised our hands to take these jobs, they weren’t forced on us. And so, I straightened my shoulders and told myself to stand up taller. That usually lasts until about 11:00 a.m., when I am slumped over at my desk at the enormity of what we are facing.

In March we were overwhelmed, and in April scared. In May we thought we saw the end. Sadly, there is no end in sight. We will be leading these communities through a pandemic for the foreseeable future. As in “years” with an “s.” If that doesn’t make you want to lie down, I don’t know what will.

In addition, of course, we are facing down this pandemic while gearing up for a financial crisis, and amid the call for racial justice that is resonating in our communities and city and town halls. Are you still standing?

Labor Day is one of those temporal landmarks for me, probably even more than the New Year. It is a good time to take stock of work and career goals. Who else wishes we could be handed a syllabus this fall, with clear guidance as to what success looks like by 2021? So what can we do?

We can stand up and make the best of a long season of social distancing, canceled vacations, and postponed family events.

We can stand up to create some joy in a year at work with all of the hard things and none of the fun things – no in-person conferences, no wedding or baby showers, and no holiday parties.

We can reestablish routines that got lost in the pandemic or over the summer – regular staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with director reports, and all staff training events, thanks to Zoom.

Most importantly, as local government leaders, we can to stand up and have difficult conversations about race, while at the same time supporting the men and women working in our police departments. (Note: This topic is so difficult to navigate that I rewrote this sentence 11 times and it still isn’t right. That’s why we must stand up and tackle it.)

Still Standing. Carrying a heavy load.

How about you? What will you stand up for this fall? Do you possibly have a road map to 2021 you could share? Who wants to write that syllabus?

Let’s practice, standing up, for ourselves, our staff, and our communities.


Long Sands, York Beach, Maine

“Imagine the lasting healthy change that could come from well rested people.” – Emily P. Freeman

We have been working at a frantic pace since early March – living with fear, anxiety, grief, loneliness and frustration – usually all in one day. Now that our state has opened up restrictions to allow more activities (think pools and summer camps, restaurants, stores, gyms, etc.), we are busier than ever. Yet we have to constantly remind ourselves, our staff, and our residents that we are still in a pandemic.

Our office transitions to “summer hours” from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with staff working more hours Monday through Thursday and taking (most of) Friday afternoons off. Since my husband also has Friday afternoons off, we compare lists. We clean the barn, the barn attic, the basement, the actual attic, and, of course, weed the garden. This is not rest, people.

Virtually everyone I know is in a constant state of stress. Our bodies’ response systems are usually self-regulating – when a perceived threat is gone, our hormones (especially cortisol, the primary stress hormone) return to normal. This long-term activation of our stress response and over-exposure to cortisol is not a healthy way to live.

Rest, on the other hand, appears to be a miracle cure. It can boost our immune system, improve motivation, promote creativity, increase concentration, and lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. Sign me up for some additional motivation, right now.

Long Sands, York Beach, Maine

Earlier this month, our extended family spent a week in a rental cottage in Maine. While stores and restaurants were partially open, we brought our own provisions and mostly hunkered down in the cottage and on the beach. The weather was a bit iffy, but it really didn’t matter. This annual vacation is truly one of the only weeks of the year I can honestly say I am resting. Our typical vacations tend to be a series of forced marches through museums and other attractions in major cities. The fact that we can’t travel these days may make rest more attainable.

As many of you know, Very Kate is particularly unsuited to preach about rest. But here are the ways I have committed to trying to find rest this summer:

  • I bought a lounge chair for my back patio and I will actually sit there.
  • I continue to prioritize walking, especially on our local rail trail that has a real nature feel.
  • I am now catching up on the reading I couldn’t seem to do during the height of the pandemic.
  • I am watching the Great British Baking Show again. I’m embarrassed to admit that even after watching each series several times, I never seem to remember who won. This show is pure stress relief.
New Lounge Chairs, Holliston, Massachusetts

How about you? Have you found a creative way to rest? Please share!

Let’s practice, imagining how we could change the world for the better if we only had some rest.

6 Speeds to Joy

Country roads in Massachusetts

Raise your hand if you have ever stepped on a clutch that wasn’t there.

Last week I finally got the opportunity I have been waiting for since 2014 to drive a car with a stick shift. After owning six standard transmission vehicles, I succumbed to (slightly) diminished reflexes and bought an SUV. I’ve been whining wondering every since whether I would forget how to drive one.

We grew up with standard transmission vehicles – not because my parents were particularly adventurous, but because standard transmissions were significantly cheaper. I simply had to learn or never go anywhere.

Those of you who know me would not describe me as adventurous. And yet. I have won more than one game of “two truths and a lie” by my account of careening around the Amalfi coast driving a stick shift on my honeymoon. In fact, since my husband was less familiar with the clutch at that time, I drove us all over Italy. Still not lying.

So back to last week. We had a house guest who generously offered to let me drive his car. I snuck out before 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning and drove the country roads around our town for almost an hour. I was nervous, but it came right back to me. I didn’t take the car out on the open road to get into sixth gear. The point was to actually shift. A lot!

I spent that glorious hour thinking about the person I was when I drove around Italy, and in each successive vehicle, and how I could recreate the simple joys of those past lives. The year 2020 has weighed most of us down. Those of us in leadership positions feel the pressure to protect our residents and staff, while also opening up the economy and providing “normal-ish” services with restrictions that would be laughable if we didn’t have to implement them.

Pro-tip: plant roses near the septic system for this result.

And who couldn’t use a little more joy? We just have to work a little harder to find it when our accustomed ways are inaccessible – like traveling to Europe or having a draft beer at a bar. Here is what I am working on:

  • Spending time outside, including weeding.
  • Prioritizing walking over running.
  • Using up the gallons of sourdough starter discard making pizza creations once a week. (Confession – I went through the amazingly soothing and yet tedious effort to create sourdough starter and have yet to bake anything with it. But the discard is in heavy rotation.)
  • Planning travel adventures.
  • Making lists of books to read and checking them off.
  • Planning home improvement projects.
  • Not attending night meetings.

How about you? Do you have a stick shift story to tell? (My journey ended after having to queue up on a steep parking garage ramp for what seemed like hours after a Red Sox game.)

Are you finding joy close to home?

Do you still, on occasion, throw your arm across the passenger seat when you brake hard as if you have a twelve-year-old next to you?

Let’s practice – maybe actually smell those roses?

Tales from the EOC: Worrying & Laughing

COVID-19 EOC, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA 2020

Have you been wondering what it is like to work in a medium sized metro-Boston community during a global pandemic? Every day there are about 1,289 decisions to make, and when you look up from your computer it is already 5:00.

Many local government managers are working entirely remotely. I tried working at home one day a week, and it was a real struggle.  I have a private office in a mostly empty Town Hall where I can work safely, and I spend a few days a week in the Emergency Operations Center.   I find that the loss of camaraderie is one of the most difficult aspects of this pandemic quarantine, so I treasure the opportunity to sit with our amazing EOC team leading us through and out of this pandemic. The people in the EOC make very difficult decisions.  They are under constant pressure to find resources and handle difficult telephone calls.  They are hounded for information they cannot divulge, and they are working constantly.   But life does go on – one member just accepted a new job, and another bought a new house.

Since the only antidote for anxiety is connection with others, I am constantly looking to colleagues in other communities for reassurance and advice. As local government managers, we are filled with anxiety all the time.  We are worried about how to keep our staff employed, paid, and busy at home.  We are worried about the employees who do have to report to Town.  We are under constant scrutiny to justify the “work at home” plan.  We secretly Google the symptoms of COVID-19 regularly because we are so run down. 

While social media and on-line resources are invaluable, they can also cause unhealthy comparison.  Those of us who are confident in our ability encourage and motivate our teams look on with despair at the amazing outward-facing messaging of our colleagues whose skills lie in that area.  And vice versa.

We worry that we simply won’t be able to cover payroll.  We worry that the many people in our communities who are not being paid or whose businesses are in jeopardy will become increasingly intolerant of the status quo. 

We worry that the first responders will get sick.  That our family members will get sick.  That we will get sick.

We worry because the world as we knew it is gone, and we don’t know whether we are up to the challenge of charting a new course. 

We wonder how we will adjust to not wearing jeans and sneakers and hoodies to work, and having to attend night meetings again.

We wonder if we can accommodate remote working options in the future, and keep the innovative spirit alive after the declared state of emergency. 

We also learned to appreciate the moments of hilarity and joy. 

The incident commander for this emergency is the Director of Health & Human Services.  It is highly unusual to see an EOC with no uniformed personnel in sight – unless you count logo fleece vests.  Another way you know this isn’t a public safety EOC is that for some unfathomable reason, three of the four staff sit with their backs to the window. 

The highlight of the day is ordering lunch to be delivered.  This topic starts right after the daily 10:00 EOC check-in call.  Sometimes before.

There is a lot of snack food around.  One member has taken to baking sourdough bread constantly.

We had so many complaints we had to ask the police to hunt down an unlicensed ice cream truck.

We had to install increasingly harsh signs closing parks, and then had to barricade their parking lots.  We had to issue a clarifying email banning the Easter bunny from visiting physical rather than virtual parks. 

Conversations like this are normal:  “Hey, I can get hand sanitizer in a month!”  “Great, how much can you get?”  “So, I have to order a pallet.  That’s 144 gallons.  But its only $6,000.”  “Do it.”

We put out a makeshift donation bin (repurposed trash bin from DPW) with a big sign that tells people what to donate.  We are so grateful for donations of Clorox wipes and masks.  One week we also got a bag of dog poop.

Improvised Donation Bin, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA

Just before the pandemic the Town got a therapy dog – a white golden retriever by the name of Rocket (of course – the Needham High mascot). He is the most popular mammal in Needham, and has more Instagram followers than I do. Every week or so his handlers bring him to the EOC. He took my place on a Zoom call and that made my week.

Officer Rocket, Needham, MA

We have a pool going as to how close the Governor’s press conferences will be to the actual noticed start time.

Last week I had meetings on Teams, Free Conference Call, Go to Meeting, Webex AND Zoom all in one day. 

Did I mention my hair is many shades, none of them particularly attractive, and I have to stare at it on my monitor all the time?

Stay well, wash your hands, reach out to the lonely.  But only reach out to my mother if you want to hear how great Andrew Cuomo is.

How are you working during the quarantine? What is your worry? What makes you laugh? Let’s practice – six feet apart.

Very Kate and the replacement donation bin, Needham, MA “No Dog Poop, Please”

On Gratitude – Or, It’s Finally April

Chaa Creek, San Ignacio, Belize

The experts tell us that practicing gratitude will increase happiness, well-being, mindset, and success at work. I haven’t seen gratitude linked to weight loss yet but that’s probably next. I follow happiness researchers like Gretchen Rubin and Shaun Achor, and I believe in the science. I simply can’t force myself to keep up the gratitude practice for more than a few days at a time. Achor’s advice is simple and compelling. Write down three things you are grateful for that occurred over the last 24 hours. These don’t have to be profound. Things I have listed over the years include “light traffic because of school vacation,” “watching Marie Kondo on Netflix,” and “got a great deal on new sheets.” According to Achor, taking note of three things each day that you are grateful for will help your brain start to retrain its pattern of scanning the world, looking for the positive instead of just the negative. You can find his very amusing Ted Talk here.

So, as we begin week five of the hardest and strangest time in most of our lives, I am sharing three things I am grateful for today.

We Got to Take Our Vacation – Before the pandemic intensified in the US, we got to take our long-awaited family vacation to Belize. While two of us work in local government and were on the telephone a lot by the end of the trip, we still hiked in a jungle and went snorkeling for an entire day on a catamaran. The cabins at the jungle resort had NO KEYS. There was only one restaurant – so there were no decisions to make! “Where do you want to eat tonight?” “How about at THE restaurant?” If you spit out your coffee picturing me snorkeling (afraid of water, sea life, drowning, you name it) you are not alone. Thanks to the kind brilliance of our guide, I too was able to join in.

We Live Near a Rail Trail – There is a wonderful and “social-distance approved” rail trail that runs right by the end of our street. Like so many of us, I am walking (occasionally running) virtually every day. I am also going into work every day, so there is no excuse for not incorporating this routine into my life after the pandemic. My younger daughter and I recently walked during the only two hours of snow in 2020.

Upper Charles River Rail Trail, Holliston Massachusetts, March 2020

I Planted Bulbs – April me is grateful to November me for planting 200 bulbs on a cold and raw day. They will bring much joy this month.

Tulips & Daffodils, Holliston, Massachusetts

I am especially grateful for the employees in all of our communities who are on the front lines providing public safety, public works, and public health services. I am grateful for the hospital and health care workers, the grocery and pharmacy workers, and all who are performing essential jobs during the pandemic.

Even though we have no real idea what awaits us in April and May, I feel like we have made it through the initial phase of this crisis. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Let’s practice – what or who are you grateful for?

The World Turned Upside Down – or Emergency Management on a Shoestring

I started drafting this post last month, but it seems like last year. I was going to scrap it, but then I thought it might be useful to see how far we have come, and share best practices.

With so many competing priorities, it can be very difficult to prioritize planning for emergencies that may never happen. Local government managers who were working around the time of 9/11 quickly realized that their “civil defense” policies and supplies were left over from the Korean War. Many of us revamped our strategies, created local emergency planning committees, and developed emergency plans. And then, other things happened. Construction. Lots of construction. The economy collapsed, and then kept growing. Other than large cities (and maybe cities not interrupted on a regular basis by extreme weather) many local governments let their emergency plans slide. In our Town, we are fortunate to have a core of committed staff who managed to resurrect our emergency planning process a few years ago, and then convinced the Town to fund a full-time emergency management administrator. This step is probably out of reach for many communities.

Emergency Management on a Shoestring was originally intended to offer suggestions for starting small and creating at least the foundation for responding to an emergency situation. Even now as everyone has been thrown into emergency management mode, we can still work to incorporate emergency planning into our now regular Power Hour routine! Here are a few ideas:

  • Practice using on-line meeting platforms like Zoom. Our private sector colleagues would be incredulous at our lack of knowledge on this subject. Since virtually all of our meetings must take place in person and in public, it simply hasn’t been a priority. It is now.
  • Figure out how to sync your work phone to your personal vehicle even though your personal phone is hooked up via Apple Car Play (asking for a friend).
  • Set up a “go bag” for your car.
  • Review ICS Protocols and complete on-line training.
  • Set up a standard operating procedure on communication. Take an inventory of what you already have set up, including use of email list-serves, texting, “reverse 911” systems, and sites like “What’s App”. We have had good success with What’s App because you can set up a “chat” for each individual event. We found in the past when we relied on email, invariably someone got left off the list.
  • Practice the communications systems you establish. In virtually all of the practice drills we have conducted, communication has been the choke-point.
  • Make sure you have all of the contact information for your key personnel in your phone. I just learned that the Office 365 App on my phone that syncs my calendar and email to my desktop may not sync contacts. Updating my contacts TODAY.
  • Plan to establish (or continue) regular emergency management meetings with your teams progressing to table-top drilling in the future.
  • Set up a dedicated phone line for emergency events ahead of time. 
  • Track expenses and staff time!

Some of the best practices that we have put into place to address the immediate crisis include:

  • Opening our Emergency Operations Center in a building that is centralized and convenient for staff.
  • Assigning the Health and Human Services Director as Incident Commander.
  • Assigning Section leads for Finance & Administration, Planning, Operations & Logistics.
  • Relocating staff full-time to the EOC including communications, emergency management, and finance.
  • Implementing a daily 10:00 a.m. call for all section leads (pro-tip from Free Conference Call yesterday: set your meetings for 10 minutes before or after the hour to avoid call overload).
  • Providing daily public updates about what is happening in Town, including key updates from the Commonwealth (updating on weekends as well when needed).
  • Providing a more granular level update to elected officials each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  • Ensuring that all communication about the COVID-19 response is funneled through our Public Information Officer.

I wonder if any of my fellow Hamilton fans are humming lines from The Battle of Yorktown: “…and as our fallen foes retreat I hear the drinking song they’re singing: the World Turned Upside Down…” Please share your strategies, stories, laments, and joys. Let’s practice social distancing together, crisis carbs in hand.

“I Don’t Have Time for Cancer” – Leading Through a Diagnosis

My Happy Place: Long Sands Beach, York Maine. The girls would not be pleased with any of the pictures from Charleston in 2004, our reward trip.

I’ve been working on one of my “20 for 2020” goals lately – to create a keynote speech about leading in local government. My passion is to empower and encourage local government employees -especially women – to advance in their careers. In preparing the speech, I’ve gotten bogged down in the sort of dry leadership principles you could easily picture on a PowerPoint slide deck. Then I remembered a speaker I heard interviewed on one of my many audio book and podcast obsessions. He was an athlete who had reached great heights, then fell down pretty hard. He wanted to teach leadership principles to other athletes, but did not find success until he figured out that the only leadership story he could tell was his own. If you are not an actual subject matter expert – on stress, time management, or happiness for instance – you are certainly an expert on yourself. Everyone has a story to share that will resonate and inspire others.

I started thinking about my story, and what others might find useful or inspirational in advancing their local government careers. Over the next year I will be searching for the best examples and sharing them here. Your feedback will make that keynote a lot better!

So back to the diagnosis. Even though it isn’t a “big” anniversary, my friend and I were just reminiscing about my cancer diagnosis in 2003. I am fortunate to work just a few blocks from a first class hospital, and had my first mammogram there at the age of 40. How many of you have received the dreaded call-back: “We just want to check something?” So the next week I walked back over to the hospital for an ultrasound. The radiologist, clearly not inclined to mince words, says this: “I think you have cancer.” I then had to walk back to my office. I couldn’t reach my husband on the phone, so I called my friend. “I don’t have time for cancer” I said. She promised to do all the research. And she did.

Being confronted by a diagnosis – your own or that of a family member – will affect your leadership in different ways. For me, I was determined not to appear weak. At the time, the Town was working through the process of changing its form of government, strengthening the role of the Town Administrator to become a Town Manager. I was drafting the language and helping the elected officials explain the proposal to numerous constituent groups. I also had two young children and a more than full-time job. I simply didn’t have time for cancer.

So if you were to call me now and ask for help leading through a diagnosis, this is what I would tell you. Some of you may disagree, but that’s OK. If you call me for my opinion you are most certainly going to get it.

First, you need to take enough time for yourself and your family. If you yourself are receiving treatment, you need rest. If you are caring for a family member, you need to go to the gym. I made the mistake of powering through chemotherapy, and unintentionally set the wrong tone for staff. If your direct report is ill, you are going to tell her to take all the time she needs, and you will be annoyed if she doesn’t. If you don’t follow your own advice, the message is mixed – at best – or just plain disingenuous.

Second, you need to appear as close to well as you can while you are working. This is particularly true if you are new to your role, young(er), and female. Remember, you called me. So I will tell you that if you lose your hair you have to wear the dreaded wig. It is awful, it itches, and it is clearly a wig. But it is not a scarf or a hat. I only wore it to work, but it helped me feel more competent. It is also a good idea to have one of those stock phrases as a response to perpetual questions about your health. Something like “This isn’t my favorite season, but everyone is being so helpful and I’m getting the critical things done.” Again, diverting attention from illness to work will make you feel more confident.

Third, when people offer to help, give them actual tasks. We know that we should offer specific services to those in need, rather than saying “Let me know what I can do to help.” If you think they really want to help, try these: “Sure, can you rake? Iron? Drive a preschooler to gymnastics? Write the Annual Report? Go to the Chamber of Commerce meeting for me?”

Fourth – if you need to get regular treatment like radiation, schedule it at the end of the work day and do not go back to work. If you have a biopsy, do not go back to work and conduct a performance evaluation (trust me on this one). On the positive side, you can get a lot of classic “books on tape” crossed off your list if you have to go to daily radiation. I managed to finish both Great Expectations and David Copperfield driving in and out of Boston.

Fifth – focus on what matters. If you are gong through treatment, so is your family. Young children especially need more of your time (hello sixth grade). Plan a reward trip at the end of treatment so that you have something to look forward to.

So how about you Relentless Practice Friends? Do you have experience leading through a diagnosis that you are willing to share? Do you have any keynote speech advice?

Since you have read this far, would you consider signing up to receive the blog through email? You know how I am all about goals, and I really want to reach 100 by the end of 2020!

Let’s practice – treating ourselves with a little compassion.

On Bob O’Neill, Local Government Leadership, & the Civil War

Antietam, 2007

Me: Hey Bob, would you be willing to let me interview you for the VeryKate blog?

Bob: Of course.

Me: Great. Can you email me answers to these six questions?

Bob: Well it would be a lot more fun if we can talk!!! But I will do what is best for you.

Me: Yes. Of course you are right. As usual.

So excited to find a picture of Bob and VeryKate together blurry or not! (ICMA Boston 2013)

I can’t say enough good things about Bob. Last spring, I had the chance to present a training session on resilient leadership with him on Cape Cod and it was a dream come true. (Let’s just say that the picture of us from that event, while not blurry, was highly unflattering). A former ICMA executive director, Fairfax County Executive, and Hampton, VA city manager, Bob now works in a variety of roles teaching and coaching on finance and leadership.

I always knew Bob from a distance, but we really got to know each other at the inaugural Gettysburg Leadership Institute in 2007, bonding over Civil War history and leadership lessons. I couldn’t find a single picture from that trip, and a little Internet research reminded me of the likely cause – the first IPhone was not released until June of that year. I had to make due with a picture of Antietam from a family vacation that same year. (Yes, I visited more than one major Civil War battle field in a four-month period.)

So back to Bob. Since he declined to write my blog for me, I had a rollicking 30 minutes or so connecting with him on the telephone. I was also writing furiously with a PEN on a PAD OF PAPER so I am forced to paraphrase our discussion.

Random picture of Bob from the Internet.

How did you get involved in local government leadership? Like so many of us, Bob walked into a city hall (this one in Hampton Virginia) after his first year of college, and found himself an internship. While he had no earthly idea what local government was all about, he spent his summer performing time and motion studies about street patching (sounds hot) and drafting personnel policies. When I asked him if he felt he added any value that summer, Bob said the city manager wanted to see if he would stick it out. Those were heady days, with local government on the front-line of social programs. Hooked, Bob worked for the city all through college and got himself hired as the assistant city manager at 24 years old. Upon reflection, this was a stretch role – most department managers were twice his age!

What was the most challenging aspect of managing in the public sector? Not surprisingly, Bob lists leadership as a big challenge. He notes that he had to figure out how to work with people who knew more than he did, and how to create a team. Bob told me that when he was first hired, there were a lot of young city managers who probably wouldn’t even meet the minimum entrance requirements to be a budget analyst today. There is so much competition for talent, we need to be widening rather than limiting the pool of applicants. We should also be looking more closely in our own organizations for employees to promote.

Bob also expressed a familiar frustration that there is a stakeholder group for everything you can think of. So how can we get everybody in on the act, and yet still take action? Bob was an early convert to the notion that there is no other way to move a project forward than to get everyone engaged in the process. It is messy and slow, but the result is the one that is most likely to stick. Otherwise, we are just shoving the “right” decision down people’s throats. And we know how that turns out.

What advice would you give later-career managers who are struggling to find new sources of motivation at work? Bob gave me great perspective on the value of dual direction mentorships. We all spend a lot of time talking about preparing the next generation for leadership, but of course such mentoring is not all one-way. Early career managers are teaching us new approaches on a daily basis, and we should find more opportunities to embrace this learning. Bob also suggested that many later career managers don’t see themselves as role models, and are perhaps too humble about what they have to offer. He believes that for early career managers, time with the “older set” is priceless. Managers are so used to deferring credit that they forget that they have great value to impart to others.

What would you tell your early-career self?  This hits home. Bob would tell his earlier self that the simple, obvious, technical solution is not always the best option. I am reminding myself of that as I write this. Maybe it will stick this time.

What are the areas of local government that you believe will be the most impacted by the pace of change? Bob says that the biggest challenge for government responding to change is that there is no money for research and development, and no seed capital for experimentation. Even if you have a cool idea, where would you get the funds to explore it? Bob’s solution was to create what he called “venture teams” every place he worked. The teams would focus on an issue that was likely to be increasingly important over the three to five year horizon, find out what the the best places in the world do, what the city is doing, and then identify the gap. (Bob is quick to point out it was more fun for those teams to go to places like Disney World and Busch Gardens as field research back before we had Google). For example, the teams discovered at a nearby air force base that pride and performance improved when the mechanic’s name was painted on the plane along with the pilot’s. Bob encourages all managers to consider the use of such venture teams to identify looming issues and scan the environment for solutions.

I have heard you say many times that you think this is the best time to be an early career employee in local government.  Why is that? Bob thinks that this is an amazing time to be involved in local government – in a lot of ways our times are similar to when he started out. Local government has never been more important, especially as ordinary Americans report that their faith in government is highest (by far) at the local level. A generation is leaving the workforce, and the opportunity for new leadership is available to those who are prepared to take this risk.

So let’s practice, learning from those newer to the profession than we are, exploring the use of venture teams, and promoting the profession. For help spreading the word, check out the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Mass Town Careers project. Maybe you will spy a VeryKate follower or two, as well as great footage of our town.