Succeeding in Government Work: Lessons Learned from Leslie Knope


In case you missed it, NBC’s Parks and Recreation aired its final episode this year after seven seasons of inspirational and hilarious tales of city government workers in small-town America. Leslie Knope (as played by Amy Poehler) – my favorite character and one of my government heroes – is the Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional Pawnee, Indiana, city government. While fictional in nature, the character of Leslie Knope actually teaches us some important lessons for success in government work. Here are a few take-aways for real-life govies:

1. Be passionate about your job

Leslie Knope loves her job in the Parks and Recreation department and it is clear to everyone she works with that she has found her passion. When the Pawnee city government shuts down for a summer due to budget constraints, Leslie is distressed and says: “It’s been three months of no work, no meetings, no memos, no late nights, nothing. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Do you feel that way about your job? If not, start with one aspect of your job that you enjoy and let that fuel your motivation for excellence.

2. Never, ever give up

Leslie Knope is one of the most determined government workers I have ever seen. She doesn’t give up when things get tough, when situations seem to be impossible, or when all the odds are against her. Leslie works for a small town mainly known for the obesity of its residents, a perpetual raccoon infestation, and pollution, yet she centers on the positive and meaningful aspects of Pawnee. She focuses her efforts on improving the lives of Pawnee residents, one park at a time.  When faced with a libertarian boss who says “I like saying ‘No.’ It lowers [employees’] enthusiasm,” a city-wide budget freeze, state auditors, and many other obstacles, Leslie uses her idealism, passion, and love for her city to keep her dream of building her own park a reality. Government work is full of obstacles, but don’t get discouraged by red tape; instead, keep your mission central and find different avenues to succeed in your work.

>>Also read: 5 Quotes from Leslie Knope That Can Teach Us About Working in Government 

3. Collaborate 

A team player and able to find the strengths of each of her colleagues and coworkers, Leslie Knope shows us that collaboration is vital to success. Even though she works with varied personalities including a self-involved entrepreneur, an unmotivated college student, and a bumbling accident-prone office worker, she stands up for her coworkers and their department. Leslie demonstrates that we can find and use the strengths of our colleagues, despite our different backgrounds and experiences. Instead of working alone, incorporate the skills and talents of your colleagues into your projects so that you can succeed together.

4. Be willing to go the extra mile

Leslie Knope gives 200% on every project, assignment, and task, and she even half-jokingly told a group of activists she led in a citizen campaign, “There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.” Kidding aside, Leslie goes full-throttle at everything in her job, not only in the tasks that are expected of her in her position, but in mundane tasks that nobody wants to do, like hunting down and capturing a loose possum on a golf course, and in difficult tasks nobody has thought of doing, like creating a city-wide Harvest Festival to save her department during a budget freeze. Do everything at your job with excellence – regardless of the importance of the task – and be willing to go the extra mile if necessary.

5. Prioritize and have fun 

We all know that work-life balance is vital to both personal and professional success. While Leslie Knope often spends many long days, nights, and weekends working at the job that she loves so much, she also takes time to be with her family and friends. Make sure to prioritize your personal and professional responsibilities and create a healthy lifestyle so that you can succeed in your government work. Let’s create balance in our lives and follow Leslie’s example: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

So here’s to success in your government work, in Pawnee or anywhere else!  And when you need more tips to succeed in public service, Leslie’s just a Netflix binge away …

Christina Smith 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.

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Enrico Accenti

Amazing article! Leslie is a true inspiration… although I am more of a Ben Wyatt. I guess it’s time to listen to some Duke Silver…

Christina Smith

Thank you, Enrico! Ben Wyatt is pretty cool, too….and I love calzones like he does! “Treat yo self” to some Duke Silver! 🙂