2019 Leadership Trailblazer Award Winner: Lori Sassoon, Deputy City Manager, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
The Leadership Trailblazer Award honors an outstanding local government leader who has paved the way for other women to achieve success in the profession as well. The League of Women in Government and National Research Center / Polco are proud to present this award for the second year.
The League caught up with the 2019 Winner Lori Sassoon to talk about being named a Leadership Trailblazer and having a career in public service.
Q: Congratulations on being named the 2019 Leadership Trailblazer Award Winner.
LORI: I’m feeling thankful for all the talented and caring people I’ve gotten to know in public service over the years, and how we support one another. One of those people nominated me for this award, and her support means the world to me. She is not only an incredibly skilled professional, but she’s also one of the most encouraging, caring, thoughtful people you could ever meet – thank you Francie Palmer for nominating me!
Q: What led you to a career in public service?
LORI: I was a political science major in college and had always planned to be an attorney, but I hated my pre-law classes in college. A professor suggested I apply for a paid internship at a city nearby. I was working at a department store, and she said they would work around my class schedule, with no more nights and weekends (which of course is a hilarious lie to look back on now). I had no clue about what cities did. But I immediately fell in love with the fast pace, the variety of problems and issues to work on, and the interaction with the community. I was hooked, and that internship led to my first full-time local government position before I graduated from college.
Q: Who have been your mentors or advocates in your career?
LORI: I was so fortunate to work for some really good people early in my career that gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have pursued for myself, and taught me so much. I also had people outside my own organization who were mentors and coaches – Pam Easter was one of those people. I never worked with Pam, but she provided a great outside perspective. Fred Wilson gave me opportunities to take on all sorts of roles when I worked for him, and later, he talked me into applying for a City Manager position when I didn’t feel ready. But he was right. And friends I’ve met through the years through MMASC, Women Leading Government, and ICMA are the best at encouraging and guiding me when I really need it.
Q: What is the most important lesson you learned while coming up in your career?
LORI: This work is all about supporting and growing the people in our organizations. Someone said culture trumps strategy every time, and it’s true. When we create trust with our people and they feel supported, there is no limit to how hard they will work, what they will accomplish for our communities, and what joy they will get from that work. Organizational culture is not the fluffy stuff – it’s the important work of leadership.
Q: What advice do you have for women just beginning their careers who would like to be an executive in local government some day?
LORI: Several things:
Raise your hand and ask for opportunities; if you don’t get them where you are, don’t be afraid to move on to another department or organization that will value you. And pursue those executive opportunities even if you don’t feel “ready”; you probably are.
Get involved in your local professional organizations. Volunteer with them and go to events. There are great people in public service and they will become your friends and supporters, and you will be theirs.
No one asks a dad if he can be an executive and a great dad. You can be an executive and a great mom, too.
Q: What do you hope to leave as your legacy in local government when your career comes to an end?
LORI: I’d love to be like one of those football players from the 70’s, watching the players of today and being in awe of how much better and faster these new players are. I hope to be watching cities from the sidelines, and thinking how much better these new leaders are than we ever were. I’ll be proud that I got to play a part in supporting them during their early years.