Lorraine Armstrong Hohl ‘17 was among the EMU alumni briefly profiled in our “Lead Together” feature pages of the fall/winter 2019-20 issue of Crossroads magazine. We’re pleased she took time out of her busy schedule as Greencastle, Pa., borough manager to share more about her professional journey and philosophy of leadership.
Lorraine Armstrong Hohl’s path to public service has taken some unexpected twists and turns but the new borough manager of Greencastle, Pennsylvania, has always heard a calling to public service.
In her first speech to city council after being hired to the top management position in October, the 2017 EMU graduate took the opportunity to share her leadership philosophy. While she may have meant to deliver the heartfelt speech to a small audience, three regional newspapers eventually covered it — perhaps because the sentiments she shared about her love of her community and the people she works and serves with are rarely articulated:
My mission while borough manager is to lead with devout love. Before you roll your eyes, let me tell you what that looks like.
It’s a devotion showing others you are unshakable, committed and determined for success. Every day it’s showing humility, not afraid to ask forgiveness when wrong. It’s recognizing when to ask questions and ask for help. The kind of love that shows grace and compassion for others because we don’t always know what is causing the pain or hurt or the irritation. It’s the type of love that isn’t afraid to be told different because that’s great, it’s a chance to learn. I’m talking about the type of love that will insert itself into chaos in order to provide a glimpse of calmness.
I’m talking about the type of love that may cause uneasiness because I have to do what’s best for the entire organization. It pushes others to be their best self regardless if they recognize it or not. Devout love protects, enables, listens and responds when needed. It’s the type of love that will respect you without asking for it in return every day. I’m talking about the type of devout love that will explode with excitement when we do immeasurable things as a team. I’m talking about leading with a heart that expects more for this community because I believe we can do far better … I thank you for this opportunity to allow me to be a mission-driven manager within the town I so reverently love.
Hohl was formerly assistant borough manager, a position she’d held since January 2019. She joined the borough as human resources and finance manager in June 2017. Both positions provided great preparation, she says, for the varying responsibilities and getting to know the borough’s approximately 30 employees, including the “great leadership team” of three managers and the chief of police.
Hohl got her first taste of public service as a student representative to the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors.
“I did that for two years and l learned the ins and outs of what municipal government was like, what decisions were approved, how they were made, what the township administration had to do to bring awareness to the board to make accurate decisions,” she said.
At EMU, Hohl majored in history with a political science minor and continued her involvement in student government, already thinking about a career in public service with a nonprofit or in the government. Her college experience also helped her to view difference more positively. In her own words, “not everyone is going to fit in your box and that’s OK … I did a lot of growing to the point where I learned that we can still work together and move things forward together toward a common goal, knowing we will disagree on a lot of things.”
Work experience in the summers with state representative Paul Schemel and a semester-long internship with the Department of Agriculture rural development section while at Washington Community Scholars’ Center helped confirm her path. In fact, she hoped to return to that particular sector of government after graduation, only to see rural development become one of the first casualties of Trump administration budget cuts.
“So I came home,” Hohl said, to consider other options. While recovering from foot surgery, she looked for part-time work.
Variety keeps work interesting
That led to her first position with the borough. Now she’s a central figure in the wildly interdisciplinary world of municipal governance, immersed in both intellectual and practical knowledge ranging from ordinances, permits and zoning to waste disposal, roads maintenance, and intersections with various commissions, boards and authorities.
“There’s not a day that goes by that something new or odd doesn’t come up that I don’t know the answer for,” Hohl says. “I am constantly problem-solving, but there’s a lot of flexibility and creativity and we have an excellent team to bring to a roundtable discussion.”
Hohl says communication is a large part of her job, whether talking to citizens and the press, or preparing policy summaries and briefing elected officials who need to know the facts to make good decisions on behalf of the community. She often practices conflict resolution.
In her work and daily interactions, she hopes to dispel the popular negative perception of government. “There are really good people here who are working in the best interest of their community,” Hohl says. “I do think people have a tainted image of government and we do our best here to dispel that, in every contact we have.”
That means staying focused on the big picture — providing trustworthy service and transparent and accurate information while helping her borough employees to do their best work — and not getting discouraged by a Facebook comment, voicemail or email.
It’s not always easy, she says. But when your mission statement is to lead with devout love … well, it is, in a way.