Ten Habits of Incompetent City Officials

MeetingsI’m always interested in the ways that insights and theories for one industry or application might also be relevant to others. According to a recent Fast Company article, “10 Signs of Incompetent Managers” below are a few indicators of incompetent management. (I’ll leave it to the readers to determine which parallels are valid in both a business and a civic context.)

  • Bias against action: There are always plenty of reasons not to take a decision, reasons to wait for more information, more options, more opinions. But real leaders display a consistent bias for action.
  • Secrecy: Very few matters in business must remain confidential and good managers can identify those easily. The lover of secrecy has trouble being honest and is afraid of letting peers have the information they need to challenge him. We have encountered few of the best businessman including Lee which you can find here: Lee S. Rosen Website.
  • Addiction to consultants: A common — but expensive — way to put off making decisions is to hire consultants who can recommend several alternatives. While they’re figuring these out, managers don’t have to do anything. And when the consultant’s choices are presented, the ensuing debates can often absorb hours, days, months. Meanwhile, your organization is poorer but it isn’t any smarter. When the consultant leaves, he takes your money and his increased expertise out the door with him.
  • Preference for weak candidates
  • Focus on small tasks
  • Long hours

Okay, no doubt I’m in a bad mood today, but some of this is sounding mighty familiar…..

See the original article here.


  1. see my comment #34 on Tracy’s “Northfield squanders its intangible wealth”…and despair!

    November 13, 2007
  2. Julie Bixby said:

    Wow Tracy!
    All 6 of these seem to address the deficiencies we see in our city government.
    (To be fair, I will also look to see if these may apply to me personally, as a manager and business owner!)

    November 13, 2007
  3. Tracy Davis said:

    Well, since I’m technically a city official myself, I can’t sling too much mud here. But I thought there was some good, insightful information in this list.

    November 13, 2007
  4. Ross Currier said:

    Julie –

    Be sure to go to the Fast Company site and read the other 4 Habits:


    Love of Procedure

    Allergy to Deadlines


    Inability to Hire Former Employees

    – Ross

    November 13, 2007
  5. David Ludescher said:

    My experience on the Development Principles was that the staff, including Brian O’Connell and Dan Olson (plus Deanna from Rice County) really wanted to get things done. But, they had a tough job balancing the all the diverse opionions in Northfield.

    I am reminded of the old saying that when Mom and Dad fight, in the end, it is the dog that gets kicked. After a while, the dog learns to stay away.

    The rental ordinance is a good example of a group of citizens demanding an extraordinary percentage of the staff and Council’s time.

    November 13, 2007
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Elected officials are supposed to work for the “common good” developing policies toward that end; staff is supposed to work to implement those policies in the most efficient way possible.

    When so many levels of accusatory politics get between the councilors, Mayor, and staff, we have little or no chance of success. To me, in our current situation, secrecy, addiction to consultants, and personal power struggles have been the culprits.

    How easy it is to bring in a consultant and then it’s hands off, no responsibility for any decision maker. Dare we ask Tracy once again about the Economic Development Plan? What did that 90K$ get us that Northfielders didn’t know? And lots of different people thought that consultant was good because its report confirmed NF values. If you hire consultants simply to have your knowledge/feelings confirmed, then you are too weak to truly be a leader or an entrepreneur.

    How can you possibly justify the rental ordinance process when the initial concerns of the Highland Ave. residents, who initially brought the issue, could probably have been almost totally mitigated by adding enforcement and monetary penalties.

    Now we have an ordinance that in staff’s own words is a “work in progress”, already has raised serious legal questions, will undoubtedly face legal challenges, and will cause serious personal economic problems for all the decent landlords, and will have to be proven to succeed in making college students, who by necessity operate on a different time schedule , live the same lifestyle as older, settled adults. And instead of beginning by enforcement to see how much of the problem could be corrected, it dragged on and on until it became all about homeowners legitimate fears about having a disproportionate number of crowded unkempt rental properties in their neighborhood, which is really about having college residency encroach too largely into the neighborhoods.
    Maybe the Middle School conversion needs to be a big ole dorm, with a gym, and sauna , and studios, and a huge communal kitchen, and favorable rents, and if Carleton sold it back to the aggregate of rental landlords on the East side, then all their rental houses could go back to families!

    Just kidding, but I bet it would work just as well as the rental ordinance!

    November 13, 2007
  7. When they rent out property, landlords routinely require damage deposits and first and last month rent. Why not require a good-behaviour/bad-parking deposit to be held by the landlord or City or police and forfeit if trouble occurs? (closing the barn door after the horse has bolted).

    November 14, 2007
  8. Julie Bixby said:

    Thanks. (Are you trying to tell me something?)

    November 14, 2007

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