Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The 'Hard Skills' of Park and Recreation: Leadership

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The 'Hard Skills' of Park and Recreation: Leadership

Article excerpt

Leadership remains one of the most discussed but elusive concepts across all sectors of life. We all desire to be better leaders; however, because there is no ultimate set of skills or dispositions that totally define effective leadership, it is a continuous process of development we all desire. The skills and dispositions employed will vary based on the circumstances we are presented with, including the formal or informal philosophy and desired outcomes of the agency or setting in which we are working. Every setting is different and it may require a different set of skills.

The above discussion notwithstanding, we believe there is a basic set of skills and dispositions that define effective leadership in the public park and recreation field. As a service profession dedicated to the betterment of the community and our constituent groups, we embrace the concept of servant leadership where the focus is on the growth and well-being of the people and communities we serve.

According to Joanne Ciulla, a leading scholar in leadership studies, "Leadership is not a person or a position; it is a complex moral relationship between people, based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion and a shared vision of the good." Josh Kuehler, president of Internal Consistency, defines leadership as the "ability to inspire motivation in others to move toward a desirable vision." And, many years ago, American businessman and founder of Firestone Tires, Harvey S. Firestone stated: "The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership." All of these definitions have similar themes and fit well with the philosophy and goals of our profession.

While, as Kuehler points out, "management is focused on tasks," leadership is about building relationships, motivating and inspiring, empowering and building people. These are core skills of servant leadership, and they help us more effectively work with our constituent groups in public parks and recreation.

These are not "soft skills" as some might believe. They are easy to say and promote but hard to achieve. Microsoft's co-founder, Bill Gates, stated it best: "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." We have broken down this discussion of leadership into four primary constituent groups:

* Consumers who use our facilities and parks and/or enroll and participate in our programs

* Employees and volunteers at all levels of the organization

* Partners including other government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and private businesses

* Legal authorities, including boards, commissions and elected officials

Other groups could be established, but these are four major groups we all encounter in public recreation and park systems. To effectively work with each of them, we must possess the technical knowledge and skills associated with our job responsibilities. However, technical competence does not determine effective leadership. The "hard skills" identified herein are the more critical skills for promoting effective leadership in our profession. So, how do we effectively work with these constituent groups?

Effectively Working with Our Consumers

Whether they are children, youth, young adults or seniors, working with our consumers is all about relationship building and establishing a true sense of understanding and empathy. If you cannot understand where someone is coming from, then you have no idea what they truly want and need. Taking the time to listen, building a consumer-friendly atmosphere, being responsive to their needs, and not focusing on procedures and rules, but rather on addressing consumer concerns, are the mechanisms for creating positive consumer relationships.

We need to move beyond only offering technically well-developed programs, expecting that people will participate and be satisfied. By focusing more on the needs of the individual, family and group, we move away from the "usual and traditional" program and service ideas, and focus more on the special, niche areas that will impact lives. …

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