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5 Traits of Action Leaders

Defining the next generation of government leaders.

What does the next generation of government look like?  What are the major challenges in government, and how do we recruit, retain and train the next generation of leaders to solve these problems?

Lucky for you, I have answers.

I recently spent two days with 600-plus government leaders at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit co-hosted by GovLoop and Young Government Leaders. With speakers like White House CTO Todd Park, sessions on topics such as analytical insights and more, the audience was engrossed and focused on how to make big change in government.

I took away five key themes about the next generation of government leaders:

  • Action-oriented. Throughout the Q&A sessions, these rising leaders framed most of their questions on how to actually make a new idea happen. Instead of just focusing on the new interesting idea, they were focused on implementation tips and real return on investment.
  • Finding their purpose. Two of our most popular sessions were Lara Galinsky from the nonprofit organization Echoing Green on “Work on Purpose” and former White House official Frank DiGiammarino on “Framework of Managing Your Career.” In these sessions, the speakers told attendees to focus their questions on their career and define their purpose. This message resonated, especially among audience members who came to public service to improve society.
  • Multisector problem-solving. Attendees led overflow audiences to sessions like cross-sector collaboration, Code for America’s Abhi Nemani on tech tips, and WordPress Founder Matt Mullenweg on social entrepreneurship. Further, during breakfast conversations, many leaders said they want to focus on public-sector problems, but don’t see themselves as just a government employee for 40 years.
  • Good rebellion. Carmen Medina, who worked for the CIA before joining Deloitte, kicked off the event with an amazing presentation on being a “Corporate Rebel — How to be an Intrapreneur within Government.” She focused on how to properly rebel to make change, the need to learn how to be uncomfortable, and how the power of optimism is the greatest act of rebellion. The next-generation leader may rebel against the status quo, but is learning how to do it with style and political savvy.
  • Hungry for new approaches. Attendees were eager for new ways to solve problems. This generation has an analytical bent, which led to overflow sections on data and analytics. In addition, the Stanford Design School made its way into government with a session on design thinking that required the exercise to spill out into the hallways.  
So how can you make the most of this next generation of government leaders?  

Provide them with problems to solve. Participants got revved up about problem solving. There was overwhelming attendance for three problem-solving sessions, during which senior leaders gave examples of problems they faced and teams had 60 minutes to solve them. Attendees felt they made an impact, and senior leaders came away with new possible solutions. It’s a great way to match the action-oriented focus with your need for potential solutions to real problems.

Leverage their curiosity. As next-gen government leaders seek new approaches like design thinking, encourage this exploration and provide a funnel for these ideas. Have leaders organize brown bag lunches on new ideas and best practices. Allow one of your meetings to be facilitated in a new way or a small project managed in a new approach.

Reconnect to the purpose. The work of government matters, and as government employees, we work every day to deliver for citizens on important issues. Remind folks of the impact they are making — collect and share testimonials and encourage staff to visit their impact area. For example, if employees worked on an IT project that delivers food stamps, they should visit a grocery store to see how their job made it easier for food stamp recipients to make purchases.

The next generation of government is here, and we need to harness the new energy and approaches if we are going to solve the large public-sector problems we will face over the next decade.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.