This post was co-written by Vered Asif and Clemson Turregano.

A few months ago we had the pleasure of working with senior European leaders in an intergovernmental organization. We spent a full day together discussing individual leadership goals, cross team collaboration and leadership culture. They were thrilled about being given the opportunity to engage in a dialogue around their key leadership challenges with peers, in a safe space, where collaborative learning could emerge.  It is always exciting when we get to work with leaders in government, for they have many similar challenges to other leaders across different industries and at the same time, some very different challenges.

Here are some of the themes and challenges which were mentioned and discussed by these senior leaders, during both a prior discovery process and the peer dialogue whilst in the classroom:

1. Mission statement, mindsets and resources

One of the key themes which came out of the dialogue was the organization’s mission statement and the impression that an articulated mission and vision statement from the very top is missing. They also raised the tendency of people to push problems up in the hierarchy and the fact that employees are inclined to be more reactive than proactive.

Working with political appointees is a leadership challenge across governments, and this group was no different.  Like many governments, senior management appointments are political, and as a consequence, management aspects are not considered. Another area they had in common was challenges with hiring and keeping good talent, while eliminating lazy performers.  Anyone who has ever worked within a large bureaucracy can certainly relate to this challenge.  As per mindset shifts and organizational transformation, they stressed that the ongoing major revolutions in working methods (moving from paper to electronic communication and documentation) will require greater emphasis on resiliency, knowledge sharing, management and leadership in the future. The challenge, then, was whether the work force could adjust to these changes and really improve their level of service.

2. Leadership Culture

A duality in leadership culture was identified by the senior group. Creating a leadership culture that can foster innovation and creativity is the holy grail of government leadership.  This group described their culture as dependent: command and control, hierarchical, top down approach, and a culture of fear. On the other hand the leadership culture has also been described as independent: people are working independently in their own areas and making local decisions. The participants stressed many times the need to move towards an interdependent mode. The leadership question is whether a government culture can ever be truly interdependent.

3. Cross Collaboration, teamwork and decision making

Inter/cross team collaboration between senior leaders is a challenge, since senior management is used to working separately within their own teams. Cross-team collaboration is resisted as much as possible because of politics, the number of stakeholders involved and the nature of a large administration with slow, complex and heavy processes. Making critical decisions requiring cross collaboration is a challenge. Regulation and legislative oversight help to create boundaries that are very difficult to cross.  The key here is for leaders in government to adopt an attitude of boundary spanning leadership, enabling them to see the strategic dimension of how these silos can be broken down for the benefit of the citizen.

4. Behaviours and skills for the future

The participants mentioned the following competencies and behaviours which they and the entire organization’s population will need to adopt and strengthen for the future:

  • Listening and communication skills
  • Cultural awareness
  • Resiliency
  • Agility
  • Maintaining a more holistic point of view
  • Growth mindset
  • Collaboration
  • Trust

In a study of government workers conducted recently, CCL found that government workers were exceptionally good at recognizing and respecting difference, and not so good at leading people.  Increasing self-awareness and adopting a feedback culture can help these leaders foster a more open environment that may lead to more efficiency and increased effectiveness.

We at CCL are curious whether any of the themes and challenges mentioned above seem familiar to you. If so, how did you manage or facilitate these challenges at your work place or in the classroom as a trainer? We are paying more attention to governments in Europe and around the world.  We are wondering, what has been your experience with senior government leaders and their leadership challenges across the world?

Looking forward to  hearing your stories!

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