You’ve read the books and articles about it, attended countless workshops and seminars on it, listened to scores of speakers and authors tout its indispensability, and maybe even struggled to figure out are effective leaders the result of nature or nurture, or both, wondering where are you in all of this. You likely feel saturated and are experiencing fatigue from all the advice, theories and content being bantered back and forth, striving to make sense out of it for you, your role, your staff and your organization.
So, what do I have to share that you haven’t read about before? Great question. After serving fifteen years in local government management and the last sixteen plus years consulting with government leaders at all levels plus authoring articles and speaking at hundreds of conferences, let me offer you this little nugget – leadership is about affecting positive outcomes. It’s not whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, male or female, young or seasoned, level of education and the list is almost endless of factors linked to successful leadership.
Do you feel value people? I don’t mean the words you use, instead it’s about the actions you take. It’s a tried and true virtue that we measure people by their deeds, not their words. Like me, you likely have come across more than your share of people who like to read the book jackets and “talk” leadership but do next to nothing with their follow-through demonstrating their devotion. I describe these types of leaders as “Grocery Carts and Greeting Cards” types, filling their leadership “cart” only with what he/she enjoy doing and offer plenty of platitudes, but never really digging deep to explore their own journey as a leader.
Leadership-as-usual is over because the business of government-as-usual is over. Consequently, permit me to unknot the threads of leadership and offer some ideas to catapult you in your journey to get better all the time because there are no finish lines, but instead many starting lines.
Our firm recently completed a Leadership Training program for a cohort of thirty emerging leaders from the City of Edmond, Oklahoma. These up and comers participate in a series of eight competency-based workshops designed to help them deepen their understanding and improve their abilities as they transition into formal leadership positions.
- Decide what you’re seeking - compliance or commitment? Effective leaders strike a healthy balance between securing compliance and enlisting commitment from organizational members in their collective efforts to build a high-performing organization, and ultimately, a stronger community. These types of leaders are successful in large part to their ability to recognize that trust is the currency by which they engender followers.
- Invest more time wandering and wondering. Your open-door policy means you leave your office and “wander” around the workplace having impromptu conversations with employees remembering you’re not the audience for your message. Credibility is gained in small quantities through physical presence and creates leadership capital. Contemporary leaders realize that by serving as one of their organization’s teachers and continuously placing themselves in the position of listening and facilitating important discussions with employees, they have the unique opportunity to coalesce these groups toward becoming a unified force intent on succeeding.
- Adjust the thermostat. Organizations lose their relevance when the rate of internal change lags the pace of external change. Successful leaders enable their team to keep the ball moving forward by being fluent in effective change-management techniques and understanding it’s a process not an event. They are catalysts for change and use both people and process-related methods to counter trends, maintain focus, and keep team members emotionally invested in the journey. Leaders realize that adding resources such as more employees is not a substitute for creativity and work to embed within their organizational a capacity for continuous self-renewal in the absence of a crisis.
- Overcome Bureaucratic Gravity. How many rules enforce standardization at the expense of initiative and passion, while delivering few if any benefits? Successful leaders ensure roles are properly aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and values and ultimately, fulfill the value proposition that talented and capable workforce members need to thrive. This means discretion to complete their responsibilities in an environment free from archaic and ineffective processes. Empowerment isn’t a program, it’s a principle.
- Take your Vitamins and Eat your Vegetables. Successful leaders apply their role as Educator-In-Chief and serve as the fitness trainer for their organization’s most valuable resource—people’s brains, which require a steady diet of nourishment to stretch and adapt to shifting circumstances. In their role, leaders, even in the darkest of budget hours, are committed to finding the resources needed so their workforce can visit the “brain gym” and pursue their potential.
- Hunt the Future. Leaders use a magnifying glass to examine the present and a pair of binoculars to peer into the future and translate those trends into what it might mean for their organization and community. They are vigilant to disrupt the fossilized mental model of “we’ve always done it that way” and replace it with a progressive approach to continuous improvement. During these times of unprecedented and disruptive change, leaders at all levels of government must improve their ability to manage a perplexing paradox - how to stay focused on today's business while building tomorrow's.
Patrick Ibarra is Co-Founder and Partner of the Mejorando Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice. Mejorando is Spanish for “getting better all the time” and it reflects our mission to partner exclusively with leaders of local governments who have a laser-like focus on continuous improvement. Our firm has been a corporate partner of the Alliance since 2004. Patrick also speaks at a variety of national and regional conferences and authors a quarterly article, Career Track, for ICMA’s Public Management. Follow Patrick on Linked In.