The Making Of A Good Parks And Recreation Administrator

Everything I needed to know about being a successful parks and recreation administrator I learned in kindergarten? Hmm? I’m not sure. I really need to sit down and first think about whether or not I am a successful parks and recreation administrator. I mean really, who decides?

My performance evaluations have always been pretty good. I get my three percent raises every year, except when I don’t — because of budget cuts! I think most of our staff respects me, most of the time. I don’t know exactly how I will be judged but I do know I am welcome in my former organizations and most telling, to me at least, is one of my former mayors from Burlington, Vermont took the time to look me and my family up on a recent visit to Colorado. I haven’t worked in Burlington since 1993. So, as Bill Murray says in Caddyshack, “ I got dat goin for me, which is nice, I tink!”

I only bring this up because I can relate it to my own life, my own way of measuring important people in my life. You know what I mean, when you travel there are certain people you will seek out in order to stay connected. Even better is when they return the favor as they slide through your hometown.

Well for me, there are definitely a few of these people — folks who may or may not be close friends, but who have had an important influence on what I think are the positives in my professional life. I wouldn’t want to lose touch with them. Let me tell you about three of them and why I think they’re such great leaders.

Mark Grosinger , Lumberyard Manager, Powell, Wyoming – 1974 -1980

When I was in high school and college I always had a part- time or seasonal job at the local lumber yard. Powell Valley Cash and Carry, “Everything to Build Anything” was our motto. As part of a staff of smart-ass kids we added, “If we don’t got it, you don’t need it!” It was part of a small eight-store chain owned by a family from Billings, Montana.

The manager had kids around my age in school — this was a small town with only one high school, so it was natural I became close friends with his kids and became attached to the family. Mark the lumberyard manager was my first professional inspiration. Mark was a devoted employee, always connecting the work we did to the bigger company — even in high school he helped us get it. He showed me you could take the job seriously, but not take yourself too seriously. He would regularly work side by side with us youngsters doing the hard work. He taught me leaders have to call people on their bad behavior, even though it is uncomfortable. I want to come back to this point a little later.

As students we would have a lot of fun on Friday night, and sometimes that meant we might accidentally come in a few minutes late on a Saturday morning. Mark had a saying, “Well, you came in late so you might as well leave early, to make up for it!”

This was before written evaluations and performance partnerships became big. So, this was his way of letting us know our tardiness was unacceptable. While we found some humor in his comment, it really stuck with us.

Over the years, I have worked with some great supervisors, and quite a few marginal ones – the one thing the marginal ones all had in common was, they did not consistently call the people they were being paid to supervise on their bad behavior. Skillfully giving both complimentary and critical performance feedback is a crucial responsibility and talent all leaders must posses.

Eventually I went on to my current career in the glorious, glamorous and highly acclaimed profession we all enjoy, but Mark’s lessons have always stuck with me. Mark died in 2004 and I attended his funeral, along with many other former employees spanning about 25 years of Mark’s leadership. Other than family, there were more employees in the church than general community members as Mark was a beloved member of this small town. It was a real joy to hear people share stories during the eulogy, many of them lessons learned from the mostly young men Mark helped put through school. He was definitely one of those people who cared about his employees and helped to make them leaders.

Kevin Skates, Superintendent of Recreation, Rawlins, Wyoming 1982 -1988

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