Why fed workers need more autonomy
What leadership lessons have you learned from fatherhood?
There are differences, but individuals look at leaders in much the same way that kids view parents. They don't listen to what you say, but they watch what you do and that to me is the most important lesson.
What advice do you have for federal leaders who have a hard time directing their workers?
Understand that management leads to compliance, but self direction leads to engagement. It's a very difficult thing to do in the federal workforce, which is not known for its radical amount of autonomy.
There are two things that federal leaders could do. The Office of Personnel Management is moving to an experiment with the results-only work environment. That's a technique where people don't have schedules, they show up whenever they want, and they just have to get their work done.
Another is what this Australian company Atlassian does, which is once a quarter--or the feds could do it once every half year--say to their employees, "Go work on anything you want for one afternoon, do it the way you want. All we ask is that on Friday afternoon you show what you've created to the staff." They call these FedEx days, because you have to deliver something overnight.
It turns out that one day of intense, undiluted autonomy has led to a whole array of inventions. It's essentially getting out of people's way and allowing them to direct their lives even for that small amount of time.
Are there other simple techniques these leaders can use to convey ownership to employees?
Remind people that their work contributes to the larger whole. There's some very recent research of Harvard Business School that the top motivator at work is the sense of making progress. The days that people report feeling most motivated are the days that they make progress on something. What leaders can do is help individuals see that progress, because they don't always see it. Recognize, celebrate that progress.
What did you learn about leadership working in the federal government?
Giant organizations can breed a sense of learned helplessness. It's very hard to get things done in government. Do what you need to do, but not much more. That's dangerous, because no organization, public or private, is going to do anything great if people are feeling helpless or believe that they can't make a difference.
How can federal leaders use right brain qualities to get ahead?
You have a lot of people in the federal workforce who are very smart, have done well in school and succeeded in a world which prizes left brain abilities. I think more executive leaders and policymakers need those right brain abilities.
For instance, one of the abilities that matters most is design, because many of the problems in government are design problems--certainly healthcare is a complex design problem, but so is dependence on foreign oil. The more people see things as design challenges requiring design thinking, the more that they'll come up with effective solutions.
Editor's note: Do you know an inspiring public sector leader? Be in touch and tell us who Tom should interview next and what questions he should ask.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: termiteavenger | May 28, 2010 1:29 AM
Posted by: st50taw | May 27, 2010 2:25 PM
Posted by: duhneese | May 27, 2010 1:01 PM
Posted by: st50taw | May 27, 2010 1:00 PM
Posted by: whineridentifier | May 27, 2010 9:33 AM
Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 27, 2010 9:32 AM
Posted by: John991 | May 27, 2010 9:12 AM
Posted by: joeblotnik49 | May 27, 2010 7:51 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.