6 Competencies of a Gov 2.0 Leader

I was invited to participate in the Potomac Forum’s “Best Practices Symposium” today in Washington, DC.

You can watch the full presentation with accompanying slides or you can absorb the slides without the commentary.

Below is an abbreviated version of the script:

The title of this session is: What We Expect From Gov 2.0 Leadership. As a question, this title becomes “What do we expect from a Gov 2.0 Leader?”

But just who is this “we” that is asking the question?

Is it the 20-somethings who are just beginning to enter government and who expect to have immediate and unfettered access to Facebook, cell phones, Twitter and YouTube – for both personal and professional use – on day one?

Actually, no. It’s not about them.

True, the Millennials and Generation X’ers are adept at using collaborative technology since they grew up with the Internet and mobile phones like the Traditionals grew up with the radio and Boomers grew up with TV. Yet the “we” that wants leaders to hear this message today is anyone who hopes that government will become more open, collaborative and participatory.

My hunch is that nearly all of us desire a government that more efficiently accomplishes the work of the people and more effectively engages citizens in the process of policy-making and service provision.

When we speak about leaders that buy into this vision and have begun to implement novel, Web-based projects to achieve it, we often say that they “get it.”

But what does that mean?

Today, I would like to suggest that there are at least six essential competencies that characterize a Gov 2.0 Leader.

First, Gov 2.0 Leaders are innovative. In The Public Innovators Playbook by William D. Eggers and Shalabh Kuma Singh, the authors indicate that, “Many public sector organizations make sporadic efforts to encourage innovation, but few implement the formal changes needed to spark transformational change…For innovation to take root, government agencies will need to take an integrated view of the innovation process, from idea generation, to selection, to implementation and diffusion.” If you want to be a Gov 2.0 Leader, you must create a culture of innovation by enabling employees, industry partners and citizens to take risks and receive incentives for groundbreaking initiatives. Innovation is not just about coming up with ideas; it’s about empowering people to make those ideas take flight.

Second, Gov 2.0 Leaders know that innovation is closely linked to trust. In an interview regarding his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey contends that “today’s increasingly global marketplace puts a premium on true collaboration, teaming, relationships and partnering, and all these interdependencies require trust.” Covey goes on to say that “compliance does not foster innovation, trust does. You can’t sustain long-term innovation in a climate of distrust. Trust is the one thing that affects everything else you’re doing. It’s a performance multiplier which takes your trajectory upwards, for every activity you engage in, from strategy to execution.” Employees will be more likely to take risks if they feel trusted. And they will trust you only when you follow-through on their innovative ideas.

Of course, a Gov 2.0 Leader builds trust by sharing information readily. In a recent article in Federal Computer Week, Dr. Mark Drapeau, an Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, states: “Nowhere is getting the right information at the right time more critical than in the area of national security…and people working in the government know all too well the consequences of not having such information available in a timely manner…although there are completely reasonable concerns about network security and information assurance, the costs of not sharing information can outweigh the cost of sharing it.” In the same article, Drapeau indicates that “strong top-down leadership is necessary to create an environment of ‘need to share’ or ‘responsibility to provide’ rather than ‘need to know’.” Gov 2.0 Leaders make information readily available to authorized users and incentivize sharing through performance measures and accountability. In other words, let’s create a culture where the people who advance most quickly are the most generous with information, not the ones who hoard and guard it.

Information sharing works best within communities of practice – among people that trust one another with the data that they are divulging. That’s why a fourth competency for a Gov 2.0 Leader is to be team-oriented. In her book Wiki Government which was released in June of this year, Beth Simone Noveck – now in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – recommends that “working in groups rather than individually offers several important advantages…for the government agencies in need of usable information and solution to problems…” She points out that these advantages go “beyond mere utility…collaboration has the effect of mutual reinforcement and motivation. Enthusiasm from collective action is bolstered by the ability to be effective and powerful, and power is in turn created by a shared enthusiasm for working together.” Did you hear that? Power is not created by the individual who holds the key to all the information. Rather, true power is catalyzed by the Gov 2.0 Leader who unlocks the curiosity and capability of a team that assembles to accomplish a common mission.

Another key competency is intuition. Like never before, leaders face a deluge of data. The effective Gov 2.0 Leader must be able to review multiple data sets and rapidly-moving pieces of information, integrating them to make intuitive decisions with confidence despite the fact that it’s not found in a final report. Chris Rasmussen, a knowledge manager in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, talks about the fact that intelligence agency leaders must become increasingly comfortable with making decisions based on “living intelligence,” or unfinished and potentially un-vetted data. Since information is changing so quickly and there is such an immense amount of data to analyze, one may never arrive at a point where the picture is completely clear. That’s why Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, stresses the importance of this critical competency to trust one’s instincts. Gladwell says, “If we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments…there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” The Gov 2.0 leader trusts the data generated and shared by the team, then follows his or her intuition boldly and bravely.

Finally, Gov 2.0 Leaders must be task-oriented. In a highly mobile society, most projects no longer require a specific place or time. For most knowledge workers, work is not a destination or duty station; rather, it is a set of discrete tasks that need to be accomplished by a particular date. Web-based and phone-based tools enable employees to accomplish their specific functions whenever and wherever they are most productive. The Gov 2.0 Leader will focus less on an employee’s time and tactics and more on the task and target. Closely linked to this task-orientation is the imperative for government to move toward a performance-based environment. If both the supervisor and the employee are clear on the why behind any given activity and have specified who needs to complete what by when, the “where” in that equation becomes irrelevant. Gov 2.0 Leaders that move toward a task-orientation will recruit and retain the best employees as those experience a better work-life balance and feel trusted to fulfill the role they were hired to perform.

So these are the six core competencies of a Gov 2.0 Leader: innovation, trust, information sharing, team-oriented, intuitive, and task-oriented. If you want to “get it,” spend some time reflecting on the degree to which these traits are integrated in your leadership portfolio.

Before we conclude, it’s important to point out what we did NOT mention.

First, no one expects a Gov 2.0 Leader to be infallible. In fact, in his keynote at the Open Government and Innovations conference, noted Web 2.0 visionary Tim O’Reilly indicated that government should encourage “safe failures.” Our new Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra echoed this idea at the same event when he said that “capturing data lets you measure when to fail fast, quit and stop putting money in bad projects.” Robynn Sturm of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said that agencies should “Iterate. Try even if you fail. Keep changing.” For each of these individuals, the assumption was that failure IS an option and that it WILL happen. They seem to think that failure is inevitable. In fact, it’s an essential element of a more transparent, innovative government.

Also, please note that the Gov 2.0 Leader does NOT need to be technologically savvy. There are plenty of technical experts that can take the Gov 2.0 Leader’s vision and make it a reality. One word is worth repeating: vision. Generate ideas and clear the obstructions that inhibit execution. Create a culture where ideas flow freely and innovation is rewarded, starting from the top and smashing the silos in between.

After all, Gov 2.0 isn’t just about information technology.

That’s merely an enabler for creating more transparent, collaborative and participatory government.

Gov 2.0 Leadership is about being innovative, information sharers, intuitive, trusting, team-oriented and task-oriented.

So if you “get IT” now…well, we all want it, don’t we?

If so, let’s share it!

Thank you.

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Henry Brown

… that the Gov 2.0 Leader does NOT need to be technologically savvy. There are plenty of technical experts that can take the Gov 2.0 Leader’s vision and make it a reality. …” Yes BUT the problem that I am seeing in some places is that the technical experts sometimes become part of the problem if they DON’T fully share the vision

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hi Henry – That’s true. The technical folks bring concerns – legitimate concerns – that can slow down the process. If the leader can enable all stakeholders to understand the tie back to mission (the “why” behind the initiative), it can break down some of the resistance and/or re-focus the conversation to develop viable solutions that address the technical expert’s valid concerns AND achieve the objective. Isn’t that where trust or the team-orientation plays a vital role?

Kim Truong

This list is on-point. I really like the part about leading beyond technology, but around vision and creating a culture that shares it.