How To Catch A Fast-Moving Train

Editor’s Note : This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

I’ve been dwelling quite a lot lately on what the future holds for parks and recreation leaders. And the future is really much closer than it was in “the old days.”

OK, maybe I’m “geezin’” a little, but when I was growing up and even into my 20s and 30s, the future was always some distant, ethereal horizon that was not as much cause for concern as simply something to contemplate.

Time and technology have conspired to change that, though. Now, technology is a camera lens that takes the future horizon from a misty distance to a discernible close-up in the blink of an eye. Today, the laptop, cell phone or iPod you buy is obsolete before you get it home and open the box. The amount of information people are now expected to process in an hour would have been absorbed over a week or two “back in the day.”

Looking Through A Different Lens

As humans, we are all a product of our environment, and from birth are shaped by events, leaders, developments and trends of the time.

My experiences growing up in rural Wisconsin make me distinctly different from my hypothetical clone growing up in inner-city New York. For the NYR (New York Randy), fast traffic, fast women and congested street life are the norm and, from his perspective, the way the world is. For the WR (Wisconsin Randy), heavy traffic is more than one car per hour passing a farm house along a gravel road. Fast women are those who drink wine at least once a month, and are thought to have smoked a cigarette in their lifetime. Congested population is a neighbor building a home closer than a mile and one-half away.

My point is that children growing up today, the Generation Y’s born after the millennium, have a totally different view of the world than The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers or Generation X’ers.

A wise professor once told me that the world one sees depends on where one is standing. At some point, however, we all share approximately the same amount of time on this earth, so it is important that we understand each other’s viewpoint.

The same is true in our roles as public administrators and leaders in the parks and rec field. It is helpful to take a few steps in another direction from time to time so we can see the world from someone else’s perspective, particularly of those who are now entering the workforce.

The Future Has Arrived

Several months ago I was invited to be part of a county-wide session hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. The general goal was to bring together leaders from business, government, academia, the arts, non-profits and other areas to discuss the future of the county 30 to 40 years from now.

What do we want it to look like? What do we want to leave our children and our children’s children?

To guide the process in the once-a-month sessions, a “futurist,” Rick Smyre, centered our discussions and exercises around the theme “Communities of the Future.”

This interesting and eye-opening experience and the application of the lessons-learned directly relate to my role as a public administrator.

It will take a distinctly different type of leadership to harness the energy and talent of the Millennials. These are the children of the instant-communication age. They are able to work complicated computers by the time they’re 5, or younger, because it is the world they know.

They can listen to an iPod, watch television, study for exams, text-message friends, and carry on chat-room conversations simultaneously! News that happened yesterday is old news. They need to know what’s happening now--all over the world--because it applies to their lives.

They will change jobs and possibly move locations once every two, three or four years, and not blink an eye. No longer will the norm be a 20- or 30-year career with the same company. They have such energy that they may be carrying on two or three distinct careers at the same time. These people are moving into the workforce as we speak, and we had better know how to harness that energy and capture their innovative ideas.

I told my staff recently, “We can either treat these times as a burden, or as an opportunity. I choose opportunity.”

We need to reinvent ourselves, recasting our roles to accommodate the changing environment.

Step It Up

For us, in a nutshell, that means we need to continue as a traditional public service, but at the same time find innovative ways of producing more revenue and bringing expenses down. We are in “entrepreneur” mode here, and, to be honest, it’s fun.

We’re coming up with new uses for space that otherwise was empty during certain portions of the day, for example, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, when most everyone is in school or at work.

We’re considering areas such as sponsorships that, in the parks and rec field, have been taboo before. Times change, and we recognize that if we’re not moving forward, we’re standing still, and thus will fall behind. We’re still at the leading edge of this change, but it’s a fast-moving train, so we don’t have time to linger at the station.

I’m willing to bet others in the field are on the same platform, and I would love to hear some of your ideas!

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail