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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Top leaders must 'cultivate a unity of purpose'

Q: One of the key findings the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey is that worker satisfaction is more profoundly affected by perceptions of top management than by their immediate supervisor. What lessons can top leaders in the public and private sector glean from this?

Today's leaders are often charged with making drastic policy changes in a relatively short period of time. Cabinet secretaries and agency administrators serve at the pleasure of the President, and most have terms less than four years. Many serve only two years as they can only handle the media scrutiny and family sacrifice for so long. And in the private sector, leaders are turning over at much faster rates.

With tenures getting shorter, winning the support of the employees is even more essential to effective leadership. After all, why wouldn't an employee who disagrees with the current leadership's chosen direction just wait the situation out in the hopes that the new boss won't be the same as the old?

In this respect, the findings of the 2010 Best Places to Work survey are quite encouraging. They demonstrate that workers are, in fact, eager to support the top leaders in their organizations if given sufficient reason to do so. What that means from a management standpoint is that top leaders can't speak to their employees through the filter of middle management. They must be accessible, engaged, and willing to articulate the reasons behind a particular course of action to all levels of the organization.

They must be seen offering praise when deserved and providing that extra nudge when one is needed. And, perhaps most important, they must cultivate a unity of purpose among the staff and make it clear that everyone has a significant role to play.

Just as private and public sector leaders share much in common, the people that work for them do as well - and nowhere is that more apparent than in their shared desire to feel as if they are contributing to something that is important and larger than themselves. That satisfaction only comes when top leaders clearly define the mission and the employees' role in it - and when the leader embodies this mission in their deeds and actions.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  September 3, 2010; 10:07 AM ET
Category:  Government leadership , Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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