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Operating Your Organization Like a Democracy

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 4th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2014 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick off the NextGen Training Summit on July 23rd in Washington, DC. We have 18 finalists in six different categories. All month long we will be introducing you to the finalists.

Meet the Finalist:

Who: Laura Kiran, Superintendent of Public Affairs, Forest Preserve District of Will County (IL)

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Award Finalist, NextGen Advocate Award

“Laura embodies the definition of a servant leader. Putting the needs of her staff before her own. Investing her time and effort into our personal and profession growth and advocating for us in every way. Laura operates our department as a democracy – where everyone from supervisors to frontline staff have a voice in decision making.” Co-worker Morgan Drdak, Digital Communications Manager who nominated Laura Kiran for the NextGen Advocate Award

Like most great leaders, Kiran praises her surrounding cast that helped her assimilate to the organization’s culture.

“Just like with families there’s dynamics that exist that you just can’t know walking in the door,” said Kiran. But when you and your team have the same mission working together is much easier.

Kiran wanted her work to have meaning, which lead her into public service.

“Our agency makes a really positive contribution to the community in the work that we do and it’s just a great feeling to know that I’m a part of that,” said Kiran.

The Forest Preserve District of Will County fosters new ideas and innovation at every level. The organization simply fosters an environment where all input is valued. It doesn’t seem like a monumental innovation, but many of the employees never worked in such a workplace.

“It took them a while to feel like they were in a comfortable environment to be able to do that. But once they realized that they were comfortable, you began to see the benefit of that. You were able to make every project that we did just flourish,” said Kiran.

We all tend to do better work when we feel truly invested in the outcome. But the public wants to be invested in the work as well.

Kiran takes the approach of going where the public already is online instead of trying to guide them elsewhere. The “we will build it and they will come” mantra meets a lot of resistance today.

“We really rely on the public to tell us what they’re interested in utilizing. We look to the public to tell us were they’ll spend their time. Otherwise, there’s a whole lot more work on the front end if we are simply picking and choosing on our own and then hoping that the public will then come to that platform,” said Kiran.

Kiran iterated how if you want to become a good leader you should surround yourself with others that have traits you want.

“I probably had really good supervisors and I just modeled it from watching others and admired it. And thought, ‘that’s really the only way to do it,’” said Kiran.

Hosting free events to the public is gives Kiran the most satisfaction. She spoke of an instance where she made an impact on a mother and daughter by helping them attend a particular event. Kiran was overcome with emotion by seeing the little girl’s elation. In the end, it’s all about the moments making a difference in people’s lives.

“Yes, it can be a lot of work to put these events on; you may be feeling tired. You know you had to get up really early in the morning on a Saturday after you’ve worked two weeks getting ready for the event. And when that happens, it just energizes you. It makes it all the more worth it,” said Kiran.

Too frequently, the public feels disconnected from the government when their concerns are overlooked. Kiran never wants her agency to lose intimacy with their community.

“At the Forest Reserve District we really do care very much about our public,” said Kiran. “And again we pride ourselves about being responsive to their request. I think it’s when you are able to talk to people on an individual basis – or to even a small group of people. I think it’s the small victories.”

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. And register for NextGen!

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