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Reinventing Leadership Development for Government Leaders

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bill Brantley
October 10, 2020

I suppose it is only fair considering how I inflicted leadership development training on others. I’m in the middle of a leadership development program, which is giving me a bad case of Zoom fatigue. We are in our third session of monthly meetings where we spend four seven-hour days in a row watching one PowerPoint lecture after another. We have occasional interaction breaks in which we are sent to breakout rooms to mull over questions as a group for fifteen minutes. Then, back to another two or three hours of lecture.

It’s not a problem with the content. Thinking strategically, forming partnerships, enhancing emotional intelligence and engaging employees are vital skills that leaders need. The participants are receiving the latest thinking and methods. We are eager to learn and put the skills to practice. However, we know there is more to building leaders than just knowledge. What is missing in developing leaders?

Leaders Deserve Better

According to Jennifer Mackin in Leaders Deserve Better: A Leadership Development Revolution, “[t]he employee attends the classes and learns the content, but then what? Most return to their jobs not understanding how to execute what they learned.” Ms. Mackin explains that organizations do not adequately measure the change in the leader’s behavior after they have been in a leadership development program. She writes, “[l]eaders are not adopting what they learn, and that’s problem.”

Ms. Mackin advocates the four drivers of leader development success: strategy connectedness, leader-led development, practice/reinforcement and face-to-face development. Leadership development programs must show a clear connection between the training and the organization’s strategic mission. Training should shift from content delivery by training specialists to facilitated conversations between the leaders reinforced by practicing leadership skills. Finally, leadership development must be face-to-face (or in interactive, live online sessions).

The Delicate Art of Bureaucracy

I agree with Ms. Mackin’s four drivers of leader development success in reinventing leadership development programs. Her four drivers are useful in helping government leaders lead their agencies through digital transformation. Mark Schwartz, a former Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2010-2017, recently published The Delicate Art of Bureaucracy in 2020. He describes his efforts to bring agile project management to the Department of Homeland Security.

Instead of abolishing bureaucracy, Mr. Schwartz argues that government leaders should work to make bureaucracies lean, learning and enabling. Reforming bureaucracies requires government leaders to have a lean mindset, encourage learning at all levels of their organization and encourage the bureaucracy’s members to solve citizens’ problems with innovative solutions proactively. I posit that creating lean, learning and enabling government leaders is best accomplished by Ms. Makin’s four drivers. In the next section, I will describe the nine skills and mindsets that leaders need to succeed in the post-COVID 19 world.

Future Leadership Skills

The Future Leader, written by Jacob Morgan, is based on interviews with over 140 chief executive officers and survey answers from approximately 14,000 employees. Mr. Morgan’s wanted to answer two questions: will leadership be different in the next decade and, if different, what skills will future leaders need? He grouped his finding into four mindsets and five skillsets. The first mindset is the Explorer, which exhibits curiosity, continuous learning and the growth mindset. The second mindset is the Chef, where the leader effectively blends technology with human capabilities. The third mindset is the Servant, which is the classic servant leadership model. The fourth and final mindset is the Global Citizen, where the leader encourages diversity and inclusion in their organizations.

To support the four mindsets, the future leader must develop five skills. The first skill is the ability to think like a futurist. The second skill is to increase the leader’s emotional intelligence, while the third skill is to enhance a leader’s listening and communication abilities. Coaching is the fourth skill. The fifth skill is called the technology teenager, where the future leader is open to new technologies. Some of these skills are already taught in leadership development courses but not as supports for the four mindsets.

Reinventing Government Leadership Development

Moving leadership training online has dramatically exposed the shortcomings of the current training approach. In talking to colleagues who have experienced the same leadership development training face-to-face, they had a better experience. Probably because the training was face-to-face, and the participants were fellow leaders who mentored each other. The in-person environment also allowed students to practice their new leadership skills.

The online environment doesn’t prevent using the four drivers for good leadership development; the online environment requires a different approach to enable the four drivers. So, we need a new way of reshaping government leadership development in practice and content to prepare government leaders for the post-COVID 19 world.

Author: Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Louisville and the University of Maryland. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers. You can reach him at http://billbrantley.com.

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