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5 Tips on How to Become a Great Public Service Leader

Recently, the Clerk of the UK public service tweeted a link to a GOV.UK blog post on 5 leadership tips for public servants:

Nice advice on how to become a great Civil Service leader: http://t.co/jYX0azOuo9
— Sir Jeremy Heywood (@HeadUKCivServ) August 5, 2015

These aren’t just any leadership tips, though. Jessica Ward, a public servant in the UK was tasked with putting together the UK public service’s leadership statement:

Image: GOV.UK

To find out what makes a great leader, she tapped into thousands of public servants, senior public servant speakers, cross-country sessions, looked at departmental activity and sought out external advice. After all was said and done, she compiled the 5 top tips into a guest authored post on the GOV.UK blog. In it, Ward explains how to turn aspiration into action on the three themes of their leadership statement – being inspiring about their work and its future, confident in their engagement and empowering their teams to deliver.

“Be inspiring!” “Be confident!” “Be empowering!”

It’s great advice, but how do we turn words into action?

10 months ago I re-joined the Civil Service after five years in the police. My role has been to help create the Civil Service Leadership Statement: from running sessions with civil servants around the country to finding out what makes a great leader, to helping departments improve their leadership capability now that everyone has had their say:

1. Don’t be afraid to learn

I remember when I became a new manager, frantically scouring the internet for tips on how to be good at my new role. And as I got stuck into ‘managing.’ I never once thought about how I was leading by example, yet in reality I was and this seemed to chime with a lot of people when we created the Leadership Statement: the importance of noticing the effect that your leadership has on others, and learning from people that you admire.

Ursula Brennan recently blogged about being open to new ways of being inspirational, one of the themes of the statement. She said that sometimes imitation is the greatest form of flattery so don’t be afraid to learn from others. My current Deputy Director is great at speaking to big groups of people, and by watching her I’ve learnt to improve my own confidence.

2. Take leadership into your own hands

At the roadshows you told us about so many practical ways that people around the Civil Service are increasing their confidence and showing great leadership. For example:

  • One Exeter – a network of colleagues who work in different departments and agencies in Exeter. From sharing printing resource, meeting room space, holding learning sessions – this network breaks down departmental silos to make a better working environment; and
  • The ‘Digital Festival’ – colleagues at the roadshow in Nottingham held a digital festival with events planned over 2 weeks where volunteers with particular digital skills ran workshops for their colleagues to improve everyone’s abilities.

Think about which part of the Leadership Statement your team finds challenging; is there something practical you could do to help your team improve?

3. ‘Come out’ to others about what you find challenging

Keith McKiggan, a Deputy Director from DfID who co-hosted our roadshow event in East Kilbride wrote a really engaging blog about how he had learnt to be open with others about having a lack of self-confidence. 64 comments later, the blog is one of our most popular.

Many people recognised the ‘imposter syndrome’ that Keith described – when at meetings he kicked himself for not having the confidence to say something. The main thing to take away? Don’t be afraid to be open with others about what you find challenging, and don’t let your inner imposter take charge. The impact of an authentic leader cannot be underestimated.

4. Make people feel valued

Lots of people we met on the Leadership Roadshow said that it felt great to feel empowered and genuinely valued at work. David Prout, Director General at DfT, made a pledge at one of our sessions to invite junior authors of submissions in his department to the final meeting with the Minister where the submission was discussed, so they see the impact that their work was actually having.

Colleagues from HMRC in Nottingham spoke about the ‘Simply Thanks’ voucher scheme that works well to recognise good work. But there are even smaller, equally meaningful ways. Giving someone (even your boss!) verbal recognition, or involving team members in a decision-making process are all effective ways of acknowledging a person’s contribution and making them feel valued. How do you make people feel valued in your team?

5. Give and receive great feedback

Debbie Cropanese spoke to us in a ‘60 second interview‘ about being nominated for a regional inspirational leadership award at HM Courts Service. She seeks and gives feedback as much as possible at meetings, after projects, and at every opportunity, and uses it to continuously improve her own leadership capability – so why wait till the end of the year? Ask for feedback on something you’ve played a part in recently.

Colleagues in Birmingham said that feedback and communication was really important in their jobs, particularly because they were based in different locations but still needed to work well as a team. The impact of really good communications made the difference.

What about you?

Once you’ve decided what you might do – deliver on your promise to yourself – why not add it to your objectives for this year?

Did You Know?

The Canadian federal public service has some of their own initiatives already underway, similar to the ones mentioned above. For instance, the Canada Revenue Agency is doing something similar to the ‘Simply Thanks’ initiative; check out their “Thank You” certificates to recognize public servant leaders within the Agency:

Proud to use the new Thank You Certificate to recognize the work of a colleague @HLaurachristina #WeAreProud #NPSWpic.twitter.com/0fqeuEi2jz
— CoryPorter® (@ottawacory) June 19, 2015

@ottawacory @HLaurachristina Love that new tool! Plan on using it soon.
— Jaime Robinson (@jaimekathleen10) June 19, 2015

Other Links

Read the full GOV.UK blog post here.

Read more about the UK civil service’s leadership statement here.

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