During our government’s economic crisis, federal executives and their trusted contractors face big challenges. Widespread sadness, general anxiety and waning productivity permeate the workforce. Leaders are watching their organizations lose contractor support as well as government staff due to reduced funding, required downsizing and job hopping. Committed to excellence, agency leaders desire and deserve to know how to keep their workforces happy and productive in the face of cost cuts, spending caps and mandatory furloughs.
Our federal leadership community needs a way ahead to breathe life back into the human element. Leaders want and need tools to improve planning, implementation and measurement of the human capital front. They are eager to set goals for improvement and achieve great results in this most important area. They realize it’s their job to do this, and they want to do it with excellence. Understanding they need to take care of their people, leaders know the current state must change and that something must give for the human capital front to thrive.
Federal leaders know it’s the right and moral thing to do to take care of their people. However, there’s more to it than that. Leaders who take care of their people are laying the foundation for those individuals to create desired business results throughout the organization. The path to high performing employees is a path on which the leader demonstrably cares about his or her people. On this path, every thought, word and deed counts, and meaningful leadership is driven by thinking, speaking and acting from the heart as a catalyst for results.
One of the greatest powers in our nation’s history has been our creative force and our ability to imagine possibilities. It’s the foundation of our country’s culture and has led our nation to be a world leader in commerce, science and technology. The same is possible for our future if people’s full potential is unleashed, organizations are free to operate at full capacity and initiatives are aligned with enterprise goals. Otherwise, federal organizations could waste their greatest resource and one of our nation’s most precious assets – human creativity.
Effective leaders choose to see problems not as obstacles but as exciting opportunities to be seized. In the federal workplace, these problems (or opportunities) include staff shortages, inflexible schedules and temporary assignments that disrupt the balance between work and home life which can all contribute to low morale if not addressed appropriately. For workers who have had a multi-year pay freeze, money is playing a larger role in job satisfaction. But it’s not the most important factor. The big driver in job satisfaction is effective leadership.
Despite difficult pressures, effective leaders remain focused, clear and calm, which builds the confidence of everyone around them. Due to the natural fight or flight response, certain instincts take over as people, including leaders, respond to stress. Leaders must be able to override instinct in stressful work settings, or they’ll feed tension and reactivity. The faster they can identify their fight or flight response and avoid pumping unneeded adrenaline through the body, the more appropriately they can respond to the situation and to the people at hand.
Leaders can learn to model for their people how to choose tools to reduce psychic stress so work proceeds in a constructive manner. In fact, studies show that people who choose to meet stressors with a positive attitude develop a remarkable hardiness that allows them, despite stress, to stay committed, feel in control and seek challenges. This hardiness is important for a healthy workplace, and it’s one of the marks of effective leadership in federal agencies where stressors include budget cuts, hiring freezes and increasing workloads.
Time and time again, experience shows that high performing individuals make up high performing teams. In turn, high performing teams drive high performing enterprises. So, what is possible? Leaders can exponentially magnify their impact as they inspire and guide their workforce’s untapped potential to reach uncharted crests of individual, team and enterprise performance during these turbulent times and into the future. Active employee engagement supports high performance at all three levels – individual, team and enterprise.
Research examining the characteristics of innovative federal leaders to determine their common leadership traits finds they demonstrate great resilience and vision and are all able to network and collaborate effectively across stovepipes within their agency and across sectors. It all comes down to making the choice to focus the heart and the mind on adopting a discipline that will energize federal employees and help them do more than just work hard, but to go above and beyond with common direction, energy, vitality, harmony and spirit.
Effective leadership is the force that will revive the human element in today’s federal workplace. Government employees will respond positively to co-creating a shared vision, having their needs attended and being encouraged to achieve new heights. This positive response will result in a better workplace with higher performance. Who wouldn’t want that? In fact, all stakeholders want to see that happen including citizens, elected politicians, federal employees and their leaders.
Tomorrow’s most influential national and international leaders will tap into and leverage the power of others in order to welcome dynamic creativity and encourage openness among all participants on the world scene. This will ensure that cooperation is maximized and all of the planet’s best talent is guided toward shared goals for the greater good. This is how leaders will transform chaos into peace even as stress escalates around the world.
All of this will happen when leaders commit to being beacons of energy and inspiration with the intention to make a positive difference. Every leader possesses the potential to make this commitment. Energy and inspiration will feed the sustainable transformation needed in tomorrow’s world environment. Leaders who energize and inspire will, by example, relay their commitment to continuous transformation, and all the elements necessary for a peaceful planet will be present in balance and harmony.