Commentary: Leadership coaching can transform the federal government

This article originally appeared on on May 25, 2017

Leadership coaching can transform the federal government
By: Gary Crane, International Coach Federation

The ability to lead is complex and not intuitive for everyone. Some people are natural leaders, but for those who aren’t, the good news is that it is a skill that can be learned and refined over time for those who are willing to consider a new perspective.

Leaders in the private sector are more likely to need to embrace change at a dizzying pace, while leaders in the federal government are often navigating in a workplace beset with rules that tend to maintain the status quo. This presents leaders in the federal workplace with a unique challenge — the need to adhere to set parameters while providing leadership to effect meaningful change.

With a new administration in Washington, there are always dramatic changes in personnel and policy; regardless of how a federal employee views the incoming administration this transition can be viewed as an opportunity.

The federal bureaucracy has a reputation for being encumbered with layers of “red tape” that slow or stymie creativity and change.

Leadership coaching can help federal leaders as well as those in the private sector identify and achieve important goals. Effective coaching can be a critical resource in transforming the federal government so that it is better positioned to deliver the results that our citizenry expects. Most leaders are provided with training opportunities and different tools to help lead in a complex setting. The most important tool a leader needs, which is not issued with the promotion, is a mirror.

In my own federal career, I experienced a watershed moment when I sought the aid of an Executive Coach. I was unable to deliver the results I wanted, even with an extremely talented team. When I asked my coach, my “mirror,” what was preventing my team from delivering outstanding results, he was kind, but direct — it was me.

And so began my real leadership journey, with an executive coach who opened my eyes in many ways to what was hiding in plain sight. My coach helped me realize that good leadership will deliver results regardless of the situation. And most importantly I could see that my staff was coming to work each day wanting to accomplish something good, maybe even great, and that it was my responsibility to facilitate that.

This experience motivated me to become an executive coach. The next step was to begin coaching my staff and develop them into leaders. Results began to appear and as the staff became more empowered, momentum ensued, and greater and greater results were achieved.

Often leaders don’t view Executive Coaches and the coaching process as an important resource because the coaching process itself is not well understood. A good summary of executive coaching is that it begins a purposeful conversation to make something different.

It is an invitation to change. Coaching is about showing where there are opportunities to effect positive change, to deliver better results and to provide the tools to make it happen. As leaders, no one is a finished product, and coaching is designed to help leaders understand how they can continue to grow.

6 Tips for Leadership for Federal Managers

  • Sell, don’t tell – This won’t always work, but if you want to tackle the status quo, it begins with this simple act.
  • Listen to your staff – Empower the people that work for you. If you don’t, how well is being a micromanager working for you?
  • Coach your staff – The old parable about giving a person a fish or teaching them how to fish for themselves is a powerful lesson in developing future leaders, one of the most important skills you must possess.
  • 360 Assessment – Every leader needs to know what their blind spots are. This is one of the best ways to learn about your opportunities to deliver better results.
  • Keep a Personal Journal – Monitor your own effectiveness as a leader. Each day reflect on what worked and what didn’t work.
  • Make Courageous Decisions – Remember, courageous leaders usually deliver better results.

So how can coaching transform the federal government? Leadership is about getting results. Perhaps more than ever, the federal government needs to prove it too can deliver results.

The world is changing quickly and the government needs to be able to effectively respond. By instilling a culture of leadership, a culture of results, the government can be transformed, from the smallest agency to the largest. But not without forward-looking leaders who are willing to embrace change, and invest in themselves to bring about that change

Those leaders and potential leaders who work for the government are uniquely positioned to affect the lives of their fellow workers but more importantly, they have the potential to positively affect the lives of our citizens.

What better investment can you make?

Gary Crane, CPA, is a member of the board of directors of the International Coach Federation Metro DC Chapter.