5 Quotes from Leslie Knope That Can Teach Us About Working In Government


Leslie Knope, the strong female lead and local government hero in the show “Parks and Recreation,” can teach us all a thing or two about what to do, and what not to do, as government employees and leaders. Her unflappable energy and optimism should be an inspiration to us all, because even though it’s just a TV show, couldn’t we use a little more Leslie Knope in government?

To celebrate this hero of local government, here are five of my favorite Leslie Knope quotes, sure to inspire you (or at the very least, make you laugh!)

“It’s gotten a lot harder to work in government. You think Winston Churchill ever had to pull his pants down and show his butt? No. But would he have? Yes. Now could he have? Well maybe not towards the end of his life. But, he would have, because he loved his job.”

We’ve all had to do some unique, creative things in order to get the job done (I don’t suggest pulling your pants down, that might be an HR problem). Here, the great Ms. Knope reminds us that public servants who passionately fulfill their agencies’ mission often have to think outside the box and try some unconventional methods to get things done.

“We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

Here, Leslie reminds us that a truly dedicated public servant has a passion for the work they do that rivals the other priorities in their lives, but that no matter how dedicated and passionate we are, a work/life balance that allows time for more important things (like waffles and friends) will actually make us better at serving the public and fulfilling our mission, as well as make us better friends and waffle-eaters.. Because who isn’t more motivated after a waffle and a night out with friends (and/or family)?

“You only get one chance to make a second impression.”

First impressions are crucial, but they aren’t everything. If you leave a meeting, conference, or any other event where you feel that you haven’t left the best possible impression, don’t sulk, instead, focus on how you can learn from your experience and show your best self at your next interaction. Setup a meeting, a happy hour, or just get ready for the next time you bump into them in the hallway or in the conference room and make sure you use your only chance at a second impression wisely!

“These people are members of the community that care about where they live. So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”

This is one of my favorite Leslie Knope words of wisdom. While it’s never OK to be yelled at, sometimes it can give us a lot of perspective to see where the other person is coming from. If someone is yelling or raising their voice about something, they are clearly very passionate about it, whether it be saving on copier ink or building a missile. Sometimes, when passions flare during a meeting or discussion, understanding that the person is speaking about something that is clearly very important to them can help prevent us from overreacting and help to diffuse a contentious situation.

“Yesterday I was tough and direct; today I have to be charming. Basically, yesterday I was Hillary Clinton and today I am Bill.”

Effective leaders have this one skill in common – know your audience. If you aren’t getting your message across effectively take a step back and determine how you can modulate your behavior and tone. Some audiences and situations respond best to being tough and direct, while others might need to be handled with charm or humor. Instead of getting frustrated next time you hit a road block, consider switching tactics and tone: be a Bill instead of a Hillary, or vice versa.

Granted, Leslie Knope is just a TV character, but she can remind us all that optimism can be our greatest weapon and that while public service is extremely important, we all need to take a step back and be able to laugh at ourselves once awhile.

Did I miss any great Leslie Knope one-liners? What’s your favorite fictional character to go to for inspiration?

Samantha McCormick is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Mackenzie Wiley

Leslie Knope is the best. Or maybe tied for first with Amy Poehler 😉

Excited for more Knope-isms when Parks and Rec comes back for it’s last season tonight!

Dave Barton

“Budget solution number twenty-eight. Use grazing sheep to mow grass in parks. Note: tired sheep could become food or sweaters.”

Toni Messina

I’ve always liked the “caring loudly” quote. My favorite (attributed) to Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Karen Baker

I’ve never heard of Parks and Rec; but really enjoyed your take-away messages from the show.

Recognizing the source of passionate expressions coming from our publics changes the way we respond. When we understand the perspective of the person or group confronting us we may realize we need to make changes in what we’re doing or how we do it. We may discover unintended hot buttons in our outgoing message that contibute to the ruckus. Rather than bristling and taking a defensive stance (or an aggressive regularory stance) we need to listen for a bit before making our next move.

Perhaps our delivery is causing fear and confusion and we need to step back and explain things better or at least describe how we did consider the concerns and evaluate them during the decision making process.

We have to recognize the human element in how we explain things to a particular audience and by understanding the interests the public is trying to protect. We have to make sure we treat the public participation elements of our work sincerely. We can’t simply rip through the process with the idea that we are going to do what we intended anyway as soon as we can get this comment period or hearing out of the way. We have to look at the calendar and make sure we don’t schedule public participation events on major religious holidays for the affected community. When we hold an informational hearing on a contentious matter, we have to secure a venue bigger than a closet, and we need to make sure we have a microphone. If the public perceives we don’t care about their opinion, the will find a way to create veto power.

Samantha McCormick


Thank you for the very useful comments, you make a lot of excellent points. The public is not trained on conflict resolution and have varying degrees of education, so instead of taking yelling personally, we need to engage the public and respond to them in a constructive manner. Great points!

Steward Carter

I love Parks and Recreation (the show!) And I have applied for a Contract Specialist position with the Department of Energy, but I have not received a call back for an interview. Is there something else that I must do in order to acquire employment with the Department of Energy?