The Government is in transition. New managers are arriving in the Federal City daily, and in many cases, there is little or no transition between the old and new administrations. The New Leaders at every level in government, whether they are Presidential Appointees or Civil Servants, need to decide whether they will master the transition or be its victims.

This transition means navigating the whitewater between what is known and comfortable and ineffective, and moving through the rocks of uncertainty towards a risk-filled future that may promise high political returns through creating more effective government. Like paddlers charging towards a difficult rapid, these new leaders, whether they are Appointees or Career Civil Servants, need to decide whether they will master the transition, or be overturned in the maelstrom.

How does the New Government Leader manage this whitewater? They may want to heed the advice of CCL authors Kerry Bunker and Michael Wakefield. Masters of paddling through organizational transitions, they offer techniques to use to lead effectively when change is the norm. Kerry and Michael offer five distinct communications fundamentals to use when you are stuck in your administrative kayak and have to move through the whitewater of change:

  • First, Communicate relentlessly– even if you don’t have the answer – communicating transparently and sharing information opens avenue to new and creative solutions…particularly in government, and yes, even with the other branches and agencies.
  • Listen. As a distinguished trainer once told me, “Did you ever realize that ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ have the same letters?” If you have problems staying silent (as many of us do), then listen by asking questions and paraphrasing with your conversant. Most importantly, use the conversation to create a deeper understanding of the situation or challenge. If you listen to the sound of the river, you will hear the rapids as they approach and you can chart your way through them.
  • Don’t blame the old administration. This is an easy trap that ensnares poor leaders. Look to where you want to go and move people through to your objective. Constantly talking about the past keeps you there. One old river rat once said – “..if you don’t keep your eyes downstream, you will keep hitting the same rocks..”
  • Trust is the flip side of the ‘hope’ coin. We hope because we trust our vision and how we might get there. Be authentic and tell people the truth – even when you think they cannot handle it. History reflects that people are more resilient than we give them credit for, and are willing to rise to difficult challenges when presented truthfully. Trust your boat, your paddle and your instincts.
  • Demonstrate calm, resilient, and high quality behavior. If you want to tell others the truth, be prepared to accept it yourself. As Kerry Bunker says, “…set the tone and model the behavior that makes the truth-telling OK.” Or, get as mad as you want at the river – it still keeps moving…are you moving with it?The government will continue to change – with great rapidity. How will you steer a steady course through this whitewater? You may not be able to change the rapids, but you can certainly learn to paddle with precision, getting your boat through the rocks unscathed to the quiet and pleasant waters beyond.

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