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An Open Letter to Public Servants

“Now the work begins” is the clarion call you’ve likely heard — and have come to expect —  on the cusp of a new president and administration coming into office.

But if you’re one of the millions of career government employees who made a choice to serve, the work never ended. You continue processing Social Security payments, directing public safety efforts, administering benefits, fighting fires — and then some.

You continue the work in the midst of a global pandemic while finding creative ways to tackle challenges without a playbook — doing your best to minimize risk and ensure favorable outcomes for the diverse public you serve.

It’s with these truths in mind that we’re approaching this open letter to government employees. What makes this letter unique is that the sage and encouraging words we’re sharing came from current and former civil servants over the past months. Their wisdom is relevant for this moment and for the journey ahead.

Support each other through change. The speed of change is a very important factor as we think about supporting ourselves and others through change. I think of it like running a race —  the faster you run, the more exhausted you potentially become. The reason that I used the word “potentially” is because change does not have to be an exhausting process. If we incorporate thoughtful change management practices into the change, we will help support individuals through change itself. – Kathleen Glow-Morgan

Be a servant leader. If you want to lift yourself up, you must uplift someone else, said Booker T. Washington, born slave, educator, orator and advisor to several presidents of the United States. As a Black woman in the U.S., it is important that I remember to serve those who have come before me, those who will come after me, and those who are rising with me. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and those giants were servants first, then became leaders. – Dulana Reese

Awaken and nurture your inner innovator. As you consider how to bring innovation into your workplace – no matter what your job title is – keep the following thoughts foremost in your mind. First, think hard about your agency’s mission. Why does it exist? How do you bring value to your constituents? Your ideas must support and advance that purpose. Make the connection as solid and tangible as possible. – Rick Pfautz

Find and empower personal leaders in your agency. To everyone in positions of formal leadership and authority, I ask you this: Look around and find the personal leaders in your organization. Find the people who lead from where they are, wherever that might be. These are the people who need to keep moving into positions of greater authority. These are the people who will join you or succeed you at the top. Find them, nurture them, and get them the information and training they need. Help them grow into the leaders your organization will need in the future. Leaders need to lead from where they are, yes. But it’s up to those in charge to put them in the right places for that leadership to make the maximum impact. – Mel Kepler

Always keep your head in the game. Stay focused on your tasks – know what they are and get them done with a spirit of excellence (not perfectionism, which can spiral into procrastination)! Sometimes things happen on the way to your next detail, promotion or career transition – delays don’t always mean denial. Be patient and use that “pause” to re-evaluate your performance in other areas. Once the flag is removed you will be ready and prepared to move forward. – Wanda Pemberton

Stay focused on the mission. At the end of the day, whether your boss is there or not, the job needs to get done. If your supervisor has set your team up for success, you don’t need them around much except for the occasional guidance. They have cultivated good leaders within the team itself and are there to support the team in the event that something goes wrong. But we aren’t all so lucky. We’ve all had micromanagers or managers that felt like they should do all of the work themselves. In these instances, a transition might be a breath of fresh air but could leave us feeling a little lost. This is a great opportunity to reflect on the true purpose of your team and why you are there. – Myranda Whitesides

Remember, it starts with you. You have to have the right attitude and realize that your management journey is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. You have to know who you are, including your strengths, weaknesses, and your worth. Know what you bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take on new responsibilities because of your lack of knowledge or experience. – Tony Johnson

Although the work will begin for a new administration, the work for public servants continues. I’ll leave you with these parting words from a fellow civil servant and member of the GovLoop community:

“In the midst of all of the kerfuffle, I’ve found it useful to reflect on the larger picture. All of us are smart, creative, talented, motivated individuals. We COULD have worked anywhere, yet we CHOSE to serve.”

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