After nearly 10 years in government I can think of five kinds of people who have helped me learn about leadership:
1. Government employees themselves. Mentors, bosses, colleagues who strive for excellence. Peers who have taken web and social media out of the basement and made them mainstream by working both within their agencies and across them, in interagency efforts. Other government employees who have done the same with internal and external communications of a traditional nature. Employees who raise money for charity. Employees who organize diversity support groups, prayer groups, who listen to you and offer constructive advice. People who take the time to go to Costco and get a huge sheet cake to celebrate someone's birthday. People like that.
2. Bloggers & other contributors to the grassroots Gov 2.0 movement, who may or may not get paid for their efforts but who do care enough to share what works through social media bulletin boards, discussion groups, blogs, Twitter, and in print.
3. Trainers like Edward Tufte, who teaches how to effectively present data in presentations. Angela Sinickas who teaches simply and effectively how to incorporate metrics into communications. Corporate educators like Steve Crescenzo and Shel Holtz, at one time the co-teachers of "Corporate Communicator's Boot Camp," for Ragan Communications, who know what they are talking about and can get the average person to be not only good, but pretty excellent at communicating effectively.
4. Researchers who take success stories and distill them into lessons we can copy - a great example is Bill Eggers and John O'Leary's work in "If We Can Put A Man On The Moon."
5. Business leaders who have taken the time to share their experience in book, video, and seminar form. Most recently, I read a very honest book by Donny Deutsch. I don't care if he wrote it for the money; it taught me a hell of a lot.
From all of these people I learned one simple thing:
Leadership is not a single event in one's life. It is a series of small moments that add up over time. Until there is a tipping point, and the new way is accepted as mainstream.
Leadership is like playing a game of Pac-Man. You are the Pac-Man (or Pac-Woman!)
Gobble up the dots. Get stronger. Then eat the monsters. When you have so much energy that you're supercharged.
Here is a story about such a leader. Who would never ever think of himself that way, guaranteed.
On a Friday afternoon we had a request to do something quickly. From an important source. It was either get it done fast, or worry about it Monday morning when new jobs start to come flowing in. Chaos and confusion could easily ensue.
This thing would normally take at least a day. We had maybe 3 hours.
My colleague and I thus went directly to the basement of the building to find the person who would do this job. Instead of submitting a form upstairs and then waiting for the mysterious process of work-getting-done to unfold.
This person, on a Friday afternoon, with no reward in sight, went out of his way to make it happen.
Introduced himself formally.
Gave us a sample form, already filled out, so we would know what to ask for.
Told us how to ensure maximum quality.
Wished us a nice day.
This person was not a designated leader. He was not agitating for Gov 2.0. I doubt he even would know or care what that was. But he exemplified the future of government. He acted as though he were running a business, we were the customers, and he would do what it took to make our lives easier.
His entire attitude was: "No problem."
It was 3 p.m. by the time we got down there. The job was done in 10 minutes. Expedited by another employee unrelated to the process who stopped what he was doing, got up, and stamped the form so we could get out of there. And also by another one who got up to sign the damn form even though he had no idea what he was signing. (My thank-you: "Good. Now I can go buy that BMW I've been wanting.")
All of these people completely understand what has to happen in government now.
Stop fussing. Get it done. And do it with a big freaking smile on your face.
If you want to be a leader, it is not necessary to wait for some magical event to happen in the future. There is no superhero who is going to gallop to the rescue on a big white horse.
The leader is you. The time is now. The things that need to be done are all around you. Gobble up a dot by solving a problem. Don't stop and don't worry about what happens next.
Everyone can make a difference. You already are a leader in more ways than you know. Step up to the plate.
It doesn't matter how old you are or how many years you have served in government. Change has nothing to do with being fresh out of school. It has to do with how you think, how astute you are, your ability to adjust and accept to a new reality. It has nothing to do with whether someone gave you "permission."
The future is here. We are all collectively making it. In every action and interaction.
Government leaders at every job, every rank, inside and outside the system too--
Wake up. It's a new day. Do you see it?
Your time - our time - is NOW.
Let's seize the day.
Image source here