AMU Opinion Public Safety

Hiring a Town Manager? Look First at Candidates’ Character

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

There is a lot to consider when hiring an individual to lead your town or community. The dynamics of local management require a diverse skill set that candidates must possess for everyone to prosper. A council that overlooks these essential qualities does so at its own peril. Exercise due diligence when looking into the candidates, and you not only will have a greater chance of success, but you will also protect your town and its assets.

[Related: Municipal Leaders Should Embrace Feedback from Critics]

Strength of character is the number one criterion when hiring a town manager because it is the most important. Benjamin Franklin said, “Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governed.”

So what are some of the signs that a candidate is of good character?

  1. Humility – When a person rises in position, the tendency toward pride also increases. A council needs to do its research before giving a candidate the opportunity to lead. One research method is to conduct an extended reference check. When candidates present references, ask them also for personal references who know them well. Those who do background investigations for security clearances employ this strategy, and it is effective for finding truth.
  2. Quiet Service – The opposite of a narcissist is someone who goes about the assigned tasks without boasting about it. In other words, what good you do, do it quietly and without bragging. I know that this character trait is hard to judge when interviewing such a candidate because the inclination is to remain humble. However, if you ask all of the candidates about the good deeds they have done to help others, they may provide some insight into their own character. In addition, you can ask their named references the same question. Depending on how they answer, you can judge if the candidates’ responses are genuine.
  3. Fallibility – Have you ever worked with people who would never admit it when they were wrong? Of course, no one is infallible. An individual who does not admit to ever being wrong should not be considered for a leadership role. An individual who does not possess self-reflection will manifest that flaw in destructive ways. How can you accept the ideas of others and build a prosperous coalition if you are incapable of critical self-reflection?
  4. Balance – Is the candidate balanced in all areas of life? I have managed people for more than 30 years, and by far balance is the most difficult part of the job. Some individuals who worked for me would inevitably bring their troubles at home to the job. Of course, they would never talk about their domestic issues directly, but instead try to compensate by controlling co-workers and situations at work. With some managerial experience, this pattern is very easy to spot. So when hiring a manager, it is imperative to do your homework. Like searching for hidden treasure, turn over all stones to see what is hidden beneath.

Take time to search for the best candidate, and your effort will pay huge dividends. Even though some town councils may hire a consultant to help them find a manager, the body politic cannot entirely step away from the selection process. It will have final responsibility. So look at the skill set of the candidates in light of their character traits. You can train individuals to do almost any task, but you cannot change their character. That must come from within.

Buster Nicholson is a manager of Public Sector Outreach. He has an M.A. in Public Administration and has worked as a public school teacher, analyst for the U.S. Secret Service, a town administrator, and a director of public works. At AMU, he works with directors and staff in state and local government to facilitate leadership growth through education and professional development.

Comments are closed.