The Constitution of Leadership
In considering a career in a Government agency, it is worth taking the time to reflect and formulate your own understanding of why you want to pursue a career in Government. There are a few reasons why this is important. Firstly, all too often people apply for Government jobs because of the job security it appears to offer. The vast array of agencies that you could work in, depending on your qualifications, is exciting to you and this may be your second reason. A third reason, depending on the level of Government, may be the opportunity to work locally or to travel as part of your work, expanding your own horizons and learnings from life.
These might be valid intrinsic reasons but they all miss the real reason as to why you would seek employment with a Government agency. There needs to be an extrinsic and even an altruistic reason. In short, the concept of ‘Servant Leadership’ embodies the notion that service, done well, is leadership.
A friend recently mentioned that in the United States of America, September is the month in which you celebrate the anniversary of the ‘Constitution of the United States of America’. The reason as to why you might seek employment with a Government agency in the United States can be found in the ‘Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America’.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
National Archives (2017). The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription.
So, an employee of a Government agency is looking to serve the people. For what purpose? In service of the people the aim is to: create tranquility, ensure justice and liberty, defend the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and the other founding documents, protect the welfare of the people and ultimately ensure the posterity and I would the add the prosperity of the United States and the people or community you seek to serve.
Leadership can, of course, take many forms but ultimately it is about influencing others and influencing processes. It is also about making sure the best is achieved for the individual client and for the organization. Once you involve other people in the equation that is leadership, two things need to happen. Firstly, the level of complexity increases exponentially with the number of people you lead. Secondly, if you are going to lead people and be at the service of others through your leadership, you need to be confident in yourself and your own abilities. In other words, you need to strive on a daily basis to make yourself a better person and as a consequence, yourself a better leader. The writings of General John E Michel (USAF Retired) are well worth reading on this point.
“…A life well lived is a life dedicated to serving humanity—one opportunity to add value to your surroundings at a time.”
Michel. John. E. (4 Feb 2014). LEARN to be that Somebody.
In this article, drawing on his vast experience in senior leadership roles, General John E Michel explains a simple model that can be employed daily to make yourself a better person and a better leader. He calls it the L.E.A.R.N. model. Very simply, the acronym stands for:
L = Lead with Your Talents
Draw on your own strengths and acknowledge your own areas of weakness. Ensure that you surround yourself with a team of people that compliment your strengths, meaning that they would be able to cover the areas your not as strong on. As a leader, it means knowing your own abilities and that of others.
E = Encourage Excellence
A good leader recognizes that excellence is not merely something achieved at the end of a project, nor is it merely a mindset. Sure they come into it but excellence is a way of thinking about things. It involves goal setting, careful planning which includes answering the “what happens if?” questions and of course implementing the plan with sufficient agility to amend it as required. Mission success is important here. Achieving mission success with excellence, is the name of the game.
A = Act with Intentionality
Leaders that are intentional in what they do achieve two things. They have a clear plan for the present and most likely one for the future. In the literature, it is deploying ‘Contingency Theory’. They know how the puzzle is going to fit together. The other thing that intentional leaders do is that they pay attention to the environment they operate in and the people they work with. The intentional leader is also an attentional leader.
R = Refuse to Settle for Good Enough
No matter how well a plan came together and was delivered, be it the latest policy program from the Government or the delivery of current routine services in a better and more effective way, there are always lessons to learn. In short, excellence thinking means learning from what was done well and what wasn’t, always seeking to raise the bar. As General Michel suggests, “throughout my own career I have made it a priority to seek out bosses, co-workers, mentors, and assignments that would help me grow.”
N = Never Let Fear be Your Driving Force
Fear, of course, can be quite limiting, even debilitating. There is a reason why leadership development programs often involve low ropes and high ropes course. The former has a high degree of safety and a low risk of failure, the latter has a higher risk of failure. Overcoming the thinking that might lead to failure is problem-solving in action. It means being creative and leading with a force of passion to achieve mission success. In the process, you might also find a better way of doing things.
L.E.A.R.N. Model from Michel. John. E. (4 Feb 2014). LEARN to be that Somebody. (annotated explanation from David Ivers)
How does all of this sit with the ‘Constitution of the United States of America’. If you intend to step up and serve your community, your state, your country by working for a Government agency, you will have responsibility for the deliverance of Government projects and programs. In the end, in upholding the ‘Constitution’ you are embracing that vision that the authors of the ‘Constitution’ had centuries ago. A vision in which freedom is protected and defended, a vision in which society is just and liberty is guaranteed. The legacy that the ‘Constitution’ leaves is in part your legacy as well. Posterity and prosperity go hand-in-glove. It may not be the mindset of every public servant, but the opportunity to lead through service is a great honor and privilege and in the process, the vision expressed in the founding documents of the United States of America will be realized on a daily basis.
The wonderful poet, Robert Frost says it most eloquently.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost. (1916). The Road Not Taken.