Surviving dysfunctional 'families': Getting caught between the legislative and executive branches

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - and that goes for government work too. No matter if you're an executive kid or a legislative one, you're at the mercy of "mom" and "dad."

I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague the other day who works in a position nearly identical to mine and for an organization that is very much like the one I work for. We spoke for nearly an hour and after hanging up, I realized that although we shared very similar hopes, expectations, goals and objectives, our strategies for achieving them were going to be very different. Why? Because of our "parents."

Not our biological parents, but the often dysfunctional branches of government that we lovingly refer to as the legislative and executive branches of government. You can call one dad and the other mom (it doesn't matter which), but no matter what size your governmental organization, you are a product of mom and dad.

When mom and dad get along, and we happen to be one of their favorite offspring, we can be showered with goodness, whether it's free-flowing funding or loose oversight. To be one of the favored children is to be in heaven!

However, when they don't get along, heaven help us. We can get caught in a tug-of-war between the two branches in which the children have to fend for themselves. Woe to you if you are one of the unfavored, left to scramble for the crumbs available after the preferred children have received their blessings.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how good you are or how hard you try, much of what you can or can't do is a byproduct of the interaction of these branches of government and the political winds that are blowing at the time.

I know that many of the things that my colleague has accomplished would be nothing short of a miracle if I could pull them off in my environment, just because the political climates in which we operate are so very different.

I say this not to be negative, but rather to remind you to put your situation in perspective when making comparisons with similar government organizations in other cities, counties or states.

People like to compare cities or counties that are "comparable." But comparable is a relative term. The fact of the matter is, you might be part of the best darned IT shop in the nation for your agency's relative size, except for the small matter that you have a staff of only three and your funding is nearly nonexistent. You can't compare your situation with a "comparable" agency that has twice the employees and plenty of funding for new initiatives.

Despite this reality, there are those (possibly including yourself) who won't look at the particular circumstances and will fail to give you the credit you deserve for your efforts. Therefore, we must be careful when judging ourselves and looking at benchmarks. It can be too easy to criticize yourself and jump to the wrong conclusions. The important thing is to do the best that you can with what you've got and try to effect the change necessary to make things better.

Fortunately for us, our system of government ensures that change does come every so often (sometimes too often), and the situation that we find ourselves in now may not be the same situation months or years down the road. If you become the favored child for awhile, be ready to step up and make the most of the opportunity--for those times can be short-lived.

So although I can't affect the same kinds of change my colleague can at the moment, I can do my best to move my organization in the right direction and plan for the time when the winds of political change are more favorable--then, I will be ready.

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