California State Controller
Q: What is the most surprising thing you've learned about leading organizational change?
A: The most surprising thing I've found is the number of individuals who don't recognize their own potential to be leaders. It is important to make sure you are building the next generation of leaders. Everyone must understand their own potential to lead. Each of us has something to offer to bring about positive change. So although I may be leading an effort, I can't do it alone, and it really does take a village. What's important is articulating a goal to those who may be new to the change environment.
Q: What is the difference between serving as an elected official on the board of an organization such as yours and being on staff in the department?
A: As a member of the board, I serve with other elected officials and, most of the time, I would say each of us is 100 percent committed to the mission of our organization. Where we do tend to have differences of opinion is in how we accomplish that mission. For example, how do we set goals for reaching a higher level of customer service? How are we going to set the goals to ensure we are administering the taxes in the most fair and efficient manner? We're very mindful of our workforce here at the Board - the individuals who have to carry out the mission. They're the ones who deal with our tax-paying community in California day in and day out. As board members, our role is to be sure that we are clearly articulating those goals.
You have helped to turn your organization around in a short period of time. How do you develop the resiliency needed to work through that?
A: The first thing I always recognize is that change doesn't come overnight. You have to be patient. There will be those who are onboard from day one and others who are not. As a leader, one has to be committed and believe in the change. As long as that commitment and belief are there and you know that there are going to be bumps in the road, you stay the course. Build a team of supporters who will sustain the change you are seeking. And hopefully they will provide other perspectives about what may or may not work.
Q: What advice would you give to new leaders dealing with the challenges of effecting change?
A: Don't insulate yourself. The most effective leaders are those who continue to have a pulse on the daily experience of those whom we serve. I like speaking to different ethnic communities because I don't know a lot about them. I think it better informs me about the work that we each do. It means doing a little bit more and having a deeper understanding of those whom we serve.
This interview with Betty T. Yee was conducted on November 27, 2012 and has been edited and condensed. When this interview was conducted, Betty T. Yee was a member of the California Board of Equalization for the First Equalization District.