PRB Articles


Resonant Leaders

In parks and recreation departments across the country, staff members and supervisors carry different levels of responsibility and authority; however, it is important to remember that each person contributes equally to the overall mission of delivering services to the public.

No matter how many services are provided--recreation facilities, parks, bike trails and sports fields--the greatest resource for effective and successful programs is the staff.

Coordinated efforts of the front-line staff members who work with the public on a daily basis go hand in hand with the office personnel who take care of everything behind the scenes.

In order to meet the recreational needs of the public, it is necessary for administrators and supervisors to provide effective leadership for the staff.

Defining The Leader

According to Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, co-authors of Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, it is the resonant leader who is likely to create the most supportive and productive work environment.

This person promotes a culture based on emotional support and empathy. He or she is able to understand and appreciate the emotional “temperature” of the organization and lead accordingly.

A resonant leader listens carefully to the staff’s words and acknowledges what the members’ emotions are conveying. It is a deep, sensitive type of listening that sparks a connection between the top ranks and staff members and ultimately fosters a supportive work climate.

This type of leadership promotes not only a more effective and productive staff, but an emotional well-being that fosters a feeling of unity.

Those who have worked in the field for an extended period of time are aware of and appreciate the demands that can be exerted on staff members. This is especially the case when shrinking budgets call for reduced staffing and fewer resources.

There is an even greater need now for capable resonant leadership.

Staff members are influenced not only by interpersonal relationships and demands at work, but also by their personal lives and events outside of the workplace. The seemingly “separate lives” of staff personnel are intertwined with their work performance.

Consider the recreational staff member who has been outstanding in all aspects of his job. For example, he has always been on time, works well with co-workers, manages programs effectively, and receives an outstanding annual employee evaluation.

All of a sudden, his work performance drops dramatically. His obligation to duty becomes more or less non-existent. No one knows what is going on with him until word gets out that he is going through a traumatic divorce. In addition, losing custody of his child has had such a tremendous impact on his life as to negatively affect his performance at work.

An Effective Leader

Opinions as to what constitutes a good leader versus a less-effective one vary; however, many people have most likely worked for both during their career.

The less-effective leader can have tremendous impact on staff morale and productivity. Although the cost of ineffective leadership may not have a defined monetary amount, the low morale and productivity have indirect costs that are easy to measure. These indirect costs are the main reason for emphasizing effective leadership in parks and recreation departments.

As an actual example of an effective resonant leader, let’s consider the skills practiced by James, a recently hired recreation administrator of a medium-sized recreation department.

The particular facilities he manages include some dedicated and talented personnel who have suffered in the past from infighting, caused by a lack of communication, lack of teamwork, low morale and general frustration because of ineffective leadership.

James begins by visiting the facilities and getting to know the staff members. He remains patient in his attempts to bring about positive change.

Over time, as the personnel begin to open up to him, James gains a fairly good understanding of the problems. He changes some of the assignments within the department, and holds weekly meetings for staff members in each rec center and an additional weekly meeting for the recreational staff.

At these meetings, James emphasizes appropriate two-way communication. He asks the directors to identify the resources that are lacking, those that each center has on hand and how the resources can be shared among the centers.

James continues to visit the rec centers to spend time with the staff in order to monitor their morale, and to evaluate the staff’s reception of the changes.

James doesn’t expect everyone to agree with his methods and attempts to improve the department, nor does he ever think that a total unification of the department will result. However, listening to the staff, supporting them, and implementing positive changes will result in better communications, increased teamwork and the resolution of certain elements related to the lack of resources.

It is important for parks and recreation administrators and managers to establish and maintain a work environment that includes empathy and support. In these days of budget cuts and staff shortages, what administrator wouldn’t want to nurture productivity and efficiency?

Establish an effective resonant leadership for a more cohesive, productive and efficient staff.

Work cited:

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., and McKee, A. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Harvard Business School Press: Watertown, Massachusetts, 2002.

N. Jonas Ohrberg is a facility coordinator for the city of Rio Rancho Parks and Recreation Department in New Mexico. Ohrberg completed a Ph.D. in Leadership from Capella University in October 2010. He can be reached via johrberg@ci.rio-rancho.nm.us.

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