One of my favorite parts of running GovLoop is that I get to meet so many public servants across all levels (federal,state, local, international), functions (IT to public works to HR), agencies (environment to budget agencies), and countries (US to Singapore to Italy).
I was reflecting the other day that no matter the differences there are some core traits that I think define a public servant. So here we go – 5 traits of public servants
1) Willingness to Help Each Other – Every day you see this on GovLoop as members help each other on discussions and blogs. But every day I see it even more ways – when we host our GovLoop mentors program, almost everyone is willing to sign up to be a mentor and help a fellow govie. This continues as I often introduce people – I’ll meet X person who is struggling with Y issue and I’ll email introduce them to a friend who just went through that & 99% of the time people help each other out. If a public servants waves his hand in need, 9 out of 10 times a fellow public servant will help him or her out.
2) Passionate about Mission / Want to Make an Impact – It is true – public servants go into government because they want to make an impact. It’s amazing to see the empathy most public servants have for their mission and citizens. Sometimes this passion gets jaded over time but it can easily be brought back if you appeal to their mission and show this isn’t talk but real action making impact. Even with furloughs, I find most public servants are willing to take them with a big “if” – if there is shared sacrifice across all levels (including Congress) and will truly make an impact.
3) Cautious – Most public servants are cautious. Whether it’s a trait of individuals going into government or the culture breeds it, it definitely exists. I see this when I’m in Washington, DC and people talk about the “Washington Post” test and how this would look if we took a risk & appeared in the paper. The funniest thing about this test is that it exists in Canada and is the called The Globe & Mail test & exists in every city/state just with their paper.
4) Struggling Navigating the Bureaucracy – When I talk to public servants about new ideas or concepts, I often hear frustration on navigating the bureaucracy. Sometimes that’s someone who is pushing an initiative internally and finding it super difficult. Other times, a person is too scared to take on the challenge – they’ll say “that’s a great idea. But you don’t know our agency / our lawyers / our IT security folks – they’ll never allow that.” I think there should be a course on navigating internally (and a support group)
5) Want to Learn about Others – I’ve found public servants are often curious how other government agencies are solving a problem. Especially with new technologies, most public servants (and their agencies) don’t want to be first but also dont’ want to be last. So they want to hear about the 5 other examples that solved this problem and then they’ll move.
Bonus – Other ones I often see – a) Feel beat up / disrespected by media & general conception b) Inferiority complex that private sector is so much more efficient/better (not true imho)
As we work to improve government, it is important to harness the energy of these traits and provide solutions to deal with the issues.
What do you think are common characteristics of public servants?
More GovLoop Resources
- Free Training – 10 Traits of a Gov’t Leader
- GovLoop Infographic – How Telework Makes Better Bosses
- GovLoop’s Leadership Hub
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