Idaho’s Department of Labor - Partnering to Address the Jobless Recovery

May 22, 2011

landscape of Idaho with sign

Jobs First.
“Jobs is our number one agenda”, states Roger Madsen, Director of the Idaho Department of Labor. He and his staff are working to become an “indispensable partner to business, economic development, education institutions, the Chamber of Commerce and other community agencies” trying to boost job growth. Roger is one of 12 individuals nominted by his peers as an exceptional leader under the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative.

Roger had plenty of good insights into effective leadership that will be integrated into our final product, but we couldn’t wait to share a few highlights.

Business Solutions
Idaho’s Department of Labor is not in the business of providing services, but providing solutions.  The Idaho team wants businesses, job seekers and other community agencies to look to them for answers to their workforce issues. They have trained staff as Business Solutions Consultants who work with businesses, economic development, and other agencies to identify and respond to community workforce problems. They conduct “listening tours” and then use the information gleaned from businesses and community agencies to inform planning, resource allocation, and service design. Roger stated that “by being at the table, but not owning it” they are able to learn about the local workforce development challenges and organize to act on them quickly and effectively.  

Look to Lessons from Life to Become a Highly Effective Leader
Roger argues that effective leadership also stems from life lessons. He pointed us to Leonardo DaVinci, from whom he learned that “in a time of ambiguity we need to thrive and not just survive”. This requires looking for opportunities like anablep fish who constantly cruise the surface of the water.  Anableps are business so called four-eyed fish because they appear to have four eyes—two that sit above the water level and two that sit below the water level.  In truth, the anablep does not have four eyes—it has two eyes that are divided to allow the fish to see things that are above it in the air as well as things that are below it in the water. Anableps, like highly effective leaders, make sense of all these images, to keep track of predators above them in the air and food below them in the water at the same time—to plunge or leap accordingly.

Roger looks to Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for lessons on life and leadership. Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” states that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can affect the weather in Central Park. “By starting small and following through”, Roger says,” you will have a greater impact than you might have ever imagined.”

Isaac Perlman, who was still able to perform beautifully with a broken string, and Thomas Quasthoff, a famous bass-baritone, who, despite some physical limitations has become a world renowned opera singer, also inspire.  Roger holds that an effective leader can’t make excuses and doesn’t use issues and challenges as an excuse to not be able to do something. They use them as an opportunity to solve a problem and make a difference.

Roger's list of key skills and abilities of a highly effective leader includes: being disciplined, organized, collaborative, family friendly and a visionary, being able to “see with the heart” and think outside the box (especially a big box), displaying high technology skills, setting measurable goals and metrics to perform, providing win-win situations and continuous opportunities for staff to learn, allowing staff to take risks, helping staff to feel nurtured and nourished, expecting and demanding high performance.  He states that effective leadership, like Kris Kristofferson said in one of his songs, is a “walking contradiction”. 

For more on that, stay tuned to the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative channel.