I had a fairly circuitous route to becoming a Park and Recreation professional. I finished college with a degree in Political Science, had a few internship experiences along the way, but wasn’t passionate about anything. This was six months after 9/11, and so, out of patriotic pride, I decided to join the U.S. Army.
Military life, as everyone knows, is unique. One of the most unique aspects from my perspective was the lengthy and formal training process for its leaders. In most careers, one becomes a productive leader through “feet in the fire” experiences or by latching onto a mentor. Before deploying overseas, I had the good fortune to attend Primary Leadership Development School in Anchorage, Alaska, a month-long program that leads to a promotion to Sergeant. It was at this school that I learned the very simple military leadership concept of Be, Know, Do.
To excel as a leader, one can boil it all down into principles using these three simple words: Be, Know, Do.
Be courageous and through strength of character embody the values of your organization, community and most importantly, yourself. Serve your public with a selfless nature and lead your staff members by being honest, respectful and loyal. Always remember that parks and recreation is an essential municipal service and fight to keep it so.
Know your job. Continue to educate yourself about recreation trends and cultivate your technical, interpersonal and conceptual skills to provide strategic vision, clearly defined goals for subordinates and motivation through a myriad of communication styles. Understand your employees, their roles and what challenges they may face. An old Army saying is “one up, two down”, which means you should know all aspects of positions one level above and two levels beneath your current role. Staff members want leaders who know what they are talking about, who understand the difficulties of getting summer camp kids to form a straight line at the end of the day or how gross it is to empty garbage during a festival.
The best leaders act, they DO things. They create a professional culture that works towards a goal and achieves the goal by providing subordinates with a defined purpose, clear direction and motivation.
The three dimensions are all interrelated and dependent upon one another. If you are consistent of character, but can’t communicate a vision to your team, you may not hit your goals. If you have years of experience across a myriad of recreation positions, but aren’t seen as trustworthy or loyal, you may always be posting on the PRPS website for your next Program Coordinator.
Be, Know, Do. A simple leadership phrase I learned quite a few years ago while running around the woods of Alaska. It has served me well and focused the energy I bring to my parks and recreation team. Hopefully it can become a tool in your leadership tool box as well.