How is leadership changing in government? More to the point, perhaps, how should it change? Vince Molinaro, author of The Leadership Contract, has said that “leadership needs to be redefined for the future.” Editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe asked him what he meant by that.
Quite simply, when we look at our world, it doesn’t matter what sector you’re in, whether it’s the public sector or private sector, organizations and leaders are under tremendous pressure: the pressure to execute strategy, the pressure to manage the complexity day-to-day, the pressure of having multiple generations in the workplace and trying to figure out how do you motivate them, how do you attract them, how do you keep them for the long-term. And ultimately, the pressure to create value really weighs on leaders.
We know that the old models of leadership that have relied primarily on the one leader at the top – the hero who had all the answers – are, in a world that’s more complex and more ambiguous, increasingly not going to work. And so the redefinition is thinking about leadership in new ways.
In the public service world, a good functional expert is often rewarded by being promoted and made a manager/leader. How does a leadership contract work for that individual?
Well, the leadership contract says a few things. Number one is that, when you decide to be a leader, it comes with obligations, it comes with responsibility, it comes with a heightened sense of expectations.
The other important point is, because of the dynamic changes leaders face day-to-day in their roles, what we’re hearing is that there are broader expectations of leaders today, that while being a strong technical or functional leader may have driven your success to a certain point in your career, all of us are now being expected to take on this mantle of leadership. So it’s not that you discount the technical or functional area, it’s that you have to build on that to be what I call more holistic. It’s broadening your perspective.
So it’s your ability to align and engage employees to where your organization is going. It’s your ability to show up, not just from your technical area or functional area or department, but more having an enterprise-wide perspective of your organization. It’s your ability to help your employees manage the ambiguity that they face day-to-day. It’s the ability to build relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders, and that is becoming more and more prominent. Gone are the days where any organization can just go off and do what it pleases, without really considering a number of stakeholders.
And finally, there’s an expectation that you, as an individual leader, have to model the values of the organization.
You mention in your book that sometimes organizations let leaders down. What is their obligation to leaders?
It’s a great point. The obligation, number one, is to set clear expectations of their leaders. It’s surprising how few organizations have clearly communicated leadership expectations of their leaders. So in that environment, leaders can show up every day wanting to do their best, but they’re always a bit unclear.
The second part is, you have to support their development and their growth. That’s critical. And the third part: organizations have to find ways to help leaders connect with one another, because today, leadership is much more distributed, much more collaborative. It’s not about one or two leaders, it’s about teams or groups of leaders coming together. I use the term “community of leaders.” And it’s hard to build community among a group of strangers, so the more an organization can take accountability for allowing leaders to connect and network, the more they’re able to, as an organization, fulfill their obligation to their leaders.
What’s the cost to an organization that doesn’t develop the leaders or create the opportunities?
Today, if there is an organization that still doesn’t get the importance of leadership, and the commitments that they have to make in order to select, identify and develop great leadership, they will be done.
The reason is pretty straightforward: your leaders are the ones who are ultimately involved in creating the strategy, they are the ones that are executing the strategy, they are the ones interfacing with the employee population, and ultimately, they are the ones that create your culture, because leaders create culture every day through their behaviours.
So if those behaviours are unaligned, are not implemented in a way that supports what you’re trying to accomplish, then your culture will be weak, you won’t attract the best talent, you won’t keep the talent that you do have, and then you run the risk of becoming a mediocre organization.
You said that the boomers will put up with lousy leaders, but millennials will walk. Can you elaborate a bit on that one?
The boomer career ethic was that you put up with stuff no matter how bad it got. It was almost a badge of honour. That, unfortunately, perpetuated bad leadership. Millennials today are wired very differently. Their expectations are higher. I think they are misunderstood. I believe we have this sense that they’re not loyal. In fact, I think they are. They can be very loyal, but they expect great leadership. And if they don’t get it, they will walk because they know they can. So that puts pressure on organizations. That’s why you have to create great leadership in your organization because that’s how you’re going to attract and keep the millennials.
You say that we all have a choice. What is the choice?
The choice is understanding what it means to be a leader, and the choice to be a leader. And I actually believe it’s the most responsible thing we can do. If you are honest with yourself and you understand what the expectations of leadership are, and you say, “You know what, that’s really not for me,” I think that’s a very noble and important decision. It doesn’t mean it’s a decision you make for your whole life. You may find that you’re in a busy period of time with family and other commitments and say, “I can’t commit to being a leader right now.” That’s perfectly fine.
The other important thing is it’s not a one-time decision. As your career evolves, you will be given new opportunities. You will be confronted with new challenges, and you will have to pause and ask yourself, “Am I really up for this? Do I have the energy necessary to lead my department, to lead my organization through this?”
Do employees have an obligation to a leader?
It’s a two-way obligation. Leaders have obligations to their employees, but employees have obligations to their leaders. It’s a sense of being loyal, it’s a sense of stepping up and supporting a leader when the leader needs it, it’s that responsibility around looking at your leader and the natural strengths that he or she may have, but also the areas of development. And maybe your obligation is to say, “I can help my leader be more effective by supporting in areas where they’re not as strong.” So it’s not about acting out of your own self-interest. It’s saying, “How do I help my manager, how do I help my leader be successful?”
If you had one thought that you would want a public sector leader in these times to think about, what would it be?
It gets back to the decision. The public sector is going through an important period in its evolution, and it really needs leaders who have the courage to step up to the obligation, to lead the organization through this period, and leave a proud legacy. That is what I think is the challenge for all public sector leaders today.
Is it different than what it was in the past? Sure, but every organization in any sector is going through the same kind of transformation. It may look different, but transformation is what’s happening around the world. So I think public sector leaders need to own up to it, need to stand up, step up, and decide that they’re going to lead their organizations through it. And not be ambivalent, not show up hoping things will change, but really be a part of driving the change.
Vince Molinaro will be speaking at the CGE Leadership Summit on February 25, 2014. Go to http://cgeleadershipsummit.ca/ for more information and to register.