This week I interviewed Rebecca Fabunmi, Mn/DOT Special Assistant to Commissioner/Deputy Commissioner. We talked about the fourth book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell.
Tang: Why did you pick this book?
Rebecca: Even though I am an engineer by training, I am also very creative. I like to create things, such as hand-made cards and other gifts. I used to dance and play music instrument. I like to write poems and stories. So this title “Creating Magic” was very appealing to me.
Tang: What did you like about the book?
Rebecca: I like the author’s style of writing. He shares his life journey, where he comes from. He uses examples from his own life, both his achievements and mistakes, to illustrate his points.
I like the author’s honesty in sharing his failures and mistakes. I found that I learn the most in my mistakes.
Tang: In the book Cockerell talks about 10 common sense leadership strategies: remember everyone is important, break the mold, make your people your brand, create magic through training, eliminate hassles, learn the truth, burn the free fuel, stay ahead of the pack, be careful what you say and do, develop character. Which strategy do you think is mostly needed at Mn/DOT?
Rebecca: The 10 strategies are all important. I would say the first one, everyone is important, tops my list.
We need to foster a caring, respectful, people-oriented culture within Mn/DOT. As Cockerell says, when you take care of your people, they will take care of your business, not because they have to, but because they want to.
Cockerell uses the acronym RAVE for Respect, Appreciate, and Value Everyone. No matter what job each one of us does at Mn/DOT, we are all special and important.
Being a leader means you have to get to know everyone on your team, reach out to everyone, respect and appreciate everyone, connect with and care about people, make yourself accessible and available, listen to understand, be a good communicator, and don’t micromanage. It’s good to involve people in the decision-making process, and give them responsibilities and authorities to make certain decisions.
Tang: What other strategies would you like to highlight here?
Rebecca: Make your people your brand and create magic through training.
People are the most important assets in any organization. Cockerell says you can’t achieve true excellence unless you attract, develop and keep great people.
We need people who have competencies in technical, management, technological and leadership areas. We should look for people in unlikely places.
We need to give people resources and tools they need to excel by developing effective training processes and learning opportunities.
As a leader, being a teacher, coach, counselor and mentor is far more effective than just being a boss.
Tang: What challenges do you see in implementing some of the 10 strategies at Mn/DOT?
Rebecca: As a state agency funded by tax dollars, we have to deal with the public misconception of misuse or abuse of tax money. This can at times lead to creating a fear based mentality. There are a lot of things we can’t do that the private sectors do well, such as have social and special events to get people together, and to celebrate achievements.
Tang: What can we do about it?
Rebecca: We should encourage people to do things that can create a community and a culture of belonging. It’s good to invest in people, in their development and well being as a whole person.
Mn/DOT should do more for employee recognition and appreciation. When we give out achievement awards, we can make it a bigger deal instead of keeping it like a secret. Share the success stories in Newsline so people know why someone gets an achievement award and so they can get inspired.
Tang: What other suggestions do you have?
Rebecca: We have a common purpose and vision at MnDOT. I believe manager’s ability to be more accessible to employees, getting employees involved in the decision making process and be more transparent always make an incredible difference that is reflected in productivity and one’s desire to come to work. Also having more one-on-one conversations to connect and get feedback on a regular basis, not just when there is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
Tang: Cockerell talks about giving people a purpose, not just jobs. I know you worked on the Mn/DOT strategic vision with a group of Seeds workers in 2008. How important is the vision?
Rebecca: Communicating our vision and mission to the frontline employees is very important. I agree with Cockerell. If we can connect our daily work with our organizational vision, our mission, see our own work in the bigger picture, and have a purpose in what we do, then our work becomes more meaningful. We work collectively to make Mn/DOT a better place, and to provide a safe and effective transportation infrastructure to the citizens.
Tang: Disney has a culture of inclusion and diversity. I know you have a diverse background yourself. What is your experience at Mn/DOT and how are we doing in this aspect?
Rebecca: I was born in Lagos, Nigeria to a British Mother and a Nigerian Father. We came to the U.S. when I was three years old. I have lived in Massachusetts and Hawaii. Diversity is a natural part of my life.
I am a product of the Seeds Program at Mn/DOT. I came to Mn/DOT as a Seeds student and stayed on after graduation. Mn/DOT is a great place to work. I believe Mn/DOT is hard at being inclusive. However, we can always do better.
Tang: Please share a quote from the book that you like.
Rebecca: (p.81) “…excellent structure has built-in adaptability. If you have created a culture of change, in which everyone from the top to the bottom is empowered to find creative ways to improve the organization, you’ll be better able to adjust to unexpected events and emergencies.”
Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.
Rebecca: Both of my parents were educated in the U.S. They valued education. My mother was an avid reader. When I grew up, I always got books as presents from my parents. My life has always been around books and reading.
I like to read self-development books. I also like to read fiction with good stories. I plan to write a book some day. But I am not saying more about it at this time.
I wish I would read more history and classics.
Tang: You just graduated from the Executive MBA program at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis. Congratulations!
Rebecca: Thank you. For two years I worked full time and went to school full time. Now I feel relieved that I have only one full-time job. I am also excited to put my new learned knowledge to work at Mn/DOT.