3 Steps to Be a Good Government Leader

Are you happy with your boss? Do you feel appreciated for your contributions? How satisfied are you with your work environment?

Your answer to those questions will probably vary somewhat based on your position in the workforce. However, if you’re in the public sector, your responses may be drastically different from your boss’s.

Each year, the OPM Agency Viewpoint Survey ranks the best places in government to work based on self-reported employee and manager satisfaction. This year’s Best Places to Work ranking indicates significant gaps between workplace satisfaction for members of the senior executive service (SES) and their employees. On average, employees ranked their level of satisfaction 20 percentage points lower than their bosses. In the performance management area, that gap swelled to an average of between 30 and 40 percent difference.

What do these numbers mean for managers in the public sector? The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte teamed up to find the answers. Their analysis, titled “2014 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government Analysis: Improving Leadership Perspectives from the Senior Executive Service,” examines cases of the survey’s top-scoring agencies to determine what good leadership looks like.

As Director of Deloitte’s Human Capital Practice, David Dye helped his organization make sense of these numbers. In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Dye detailed what exactly makes a good leader in government and the simple steps executives across the public sector can take to increase their employees’ satisfaction with their organization.

Good Leadership, Better Ratings

Creating a better work environment starts at the top level. According to Dye, agencies with the least disparity between employee and senior executive satisfaction scored the highest on the survey of best places to work in government. Unsurprisingly, those with the largest gaps in satisfaction between employees and managers ranked the lower on the list.

Performance management questions, specifically dealing with poor performers, produced the largest gaps in satisfaction between employees and their employers. Only 25 percent of federal employees felt that their bosses were adequately addressing poor performance, while nearly 70 percent of senior executives reported that they were sufficiently managing poor performers.

To Dye, these numbers indicate a clear pattern: the more engaged managers are in the workplace, the more satisfied their employees are. “We’ve got some huge gaps between what leaders view and experience compared to the rest of the workforce. That gap is an opportunity,” Dye said. Teaching senior executives, particularly those new to the role, a few simple steps to manage performance and engage their workforce on a deeper level can make a big difference in how employees perceive their work environment.

So what do senior executives need to do? The Department of Labor provides a good model. Executives there bring in outside speakers to coach employees, engage in a mentoring program, and actively talk with and coach employees through the problems that they face on a day-to-day basis.

With all of these opportunities for advancement and deeper levels of engagement, it’s no wonder that the DOL scored one of the highest employee satisfaction ratings in the survey. “If the leadership formula is right, all of the other [problems] will work out,” Dye said. While this model of training and engagement has worked for the Department of Labor, there are other, smaller steps managers can take at little to no cost to improve their employees’ satisfaction.

Dye emphasized, “Just like leadership may have a lot of different definitions, training can have a lot of different definitions.”

Steps to Start Today

Dye emphasized that good leadership has many different definitions. However, after analyzing cases from the survey’s highest and lowest-scoring agencies, he identified three key factors that define the government’s best leaders.

1. Ask questions

As a manager, working questions into your daily routine can have an enormous impact on how your employees perceive you as well as the agency. Dye recalled once at a leadership workshop, instructors gave executives three questions to ask three employees that day. They were:

  • What excites you most about what you do?
  • What do you feel is the biggest barrier keeping you from being fully engaged and satisfied with your work?
  • If I as a leader could make one change, one that would have the largest impact on your engagement in this organization, what would that change be?

When the leaders regrouped, they reported that their employees were surprised that their bosses took the time to ask them these questions, and the managers were surprised by the honest feedback that followed from their employees.

Simple questions like these open up meaningful discussions about how leaders can improve the workplace. They also allow you to delve into what inspires your employee, which can help you get them excited about what they do for the agency. Asking members of the workforce questions doesn’t entail a lot of time or monetary expense; it only requires you to get out of your own office and talk to others.

2. Be engaged with others 

Aside from asking questions, engaging with your employees on a regular basis is essential to being a good leader. Deeper levels of engagement as a performance manager is one of the “most fundamental things to do well, but also one of the hardest things to do well,” Dye said.

Open conversations are the best way to discover individuals’ needs and expectations in their workplace. Checking in with people, discussing some of the challenges they’re facing and coaching them through those challenges are simple ways to demonstrate that you as a leader care about your employees. Having short, ongoing conversations with others’ is an easy way to engage with your workforce on a deeper level and increase employee satisfaction.

3. Make employees feel valued

“If you feel valuable in your organization, you’re thrilled to be where you are,” Dye observed. Asking questions, checking in and coaching are all ways of making employees feel valued. Building a deeper relationship and trust with employee’s helps them see the bigger picture of what their work means to the organization.

There are many ways to make people feel valued. Monetary rewards, such as bonuses, promotions, or pay raises are one way of showing appreciation. But there are even smaller, equally meaningful ways. Kudos, verbal recognition, or involving an individual in a decision-making process are all effective ways of acknowledging a person’s contribution to the workplace and making them feel valued.

When people feel valued for their work, they’ll be happier with their workplace. It’s that easy. Good leadership doesn’t require a lot of money, but the time and effort you invest to build stronger bonds with employees will give you incredible returns on very small investments. For government managers, those small investments can make all the difference.


Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply