Skip to main content

Calling All Leaders: How to Inspire and Motivate Right Now

Leaders: it’s time to take action and develop the next generation of public sector managers. The warning signs are clear and have been since the early 90s – the silver tsunami projecting waves of retirements among experienced leaders and the push for effective government remains as powerful today as it did back then.

That’s why my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving government effectiveness, manages the Excellence in Government (EIG) Fellows program. The EIG Fellows program is a year-long training initiative that prepares high-potential federal leaders for senior management roles.

Many of the topics addressed within the EIG Fellows program are uniquely relevant to public sector leaders, such as election-cycle leadership changes, competing constituent priorities and politically-charged budget battles. However, our curricula are more similar than different to the best leadership training programs across sectors.

Great leaders are essentially the same wherever they may hang their hats. Identifying these characteristics and making them commonplace with employees and peers can take you from a good leader to a great one.

Leadership coach and former presidential adviser Christine Comaford recently discussed leadership pitfalls. She included not responding to emails, failing to provide feedback and showing preferential treatment as common weaknesses that can sabotage great managers.

Conversely, we will explore the common behaviors of successful leaders who continually inspire employees to perform at their highest levels:

Create an open, innovative environment: A creative environment breeds improvement, fresh thinking and new ideas. An open workplace encourages this type of thinking and emboldens employees to share their ideas. It also makes employees feel they are being heard and their ideas are accepted and valued. In today’s competitive environment, this not only improves office operations but can keep talent from leaving.

Address conflicts: Personnel conflicts create a hostile environment that disrupt the harmonious, productive environment you are creating. Confront and discuss any conflicts immediately before they build to bigger problems that are harder to diffuse.

Invest in your employees:  Make sure employees have the necessary tools to develop and grow their skill set. This can be providing them with opportunities for continual education, additional training or the right technology. Investing in human capital and training programs will improve overall performance.

Remain open and frank: While leaders should be constructive when delivering negative feedback, it helps no one if they ignore their employees’ weaknesses. The best leaders are fully honest with their team members – or potential successors –about their opportunities for growth and what it might take for those employees to grow into leadership positions themselves.

Recruit: With 31 percent of federal employees projected to be eligible for retirement in 2017, succession planning needs to be a priority. Being proactive and acknowledging the need for improved recruitment and retention tactics will bridge the gap between the public and private sector.

Plan for the future: In addition to the staffing changes on the horizon, watch for trends in the marketplace so you can anticipate and prepare accordingly. Be sure to communicate your plan so everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Emphasize the big picture: The best leaders inspire their staff to take ownership of an organization’s success by not merely meting out assignments but continually describing the larger goal or mission.  While this type of empowerment fosters loyalty and a commitment to success in any organization, the public sector workforce can derive particular satisfaction by understanding their role in helping government effectively defend the homeland, ensure public safety, protect the environment, respond to natural and man-made disasters, improve public health and serve those in need.

Lead through example: Just like you watch and emulate the leaders you admire; people are watching you. Be consistent and model the behavior you desire from employees. You want them to work with you, not just for you.

Being a leader is a big responsibility and should be treated as such. It takes a conscious effort and is something that can be continuously improved. Are there any other leadership skills you would add to this list? What are you doing now to motivate and inspire?

About the Author

Vice President of Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service Leaders