I think we can all agree that we would love to know the secrets of being successful. For those in government, success is usually defined by becoming a senior leader. The best way to learn is still (and always will be) from personal testimonies. As such, we should seek out the knowledge from those currently holding senior leadership positions.
And that’s what we did in our recent online training, Secrets of the C-Suite: Tips for Becoming a Senior Leader in Government, where Julie Saad, Communications Strategist at U.S. Immigration Services within Department of Homeland Security, and Kevin Richman, Director of ITS Portfolio Outreach for the General Services Administration and Chief Relationship Officer of Young Government Leaders, shared their leadership insights (a recap of that training is here).
In that conversation, Richman and Saad shared three tips to set others on the path to senior leadership:
1) Stay open-minded in all situations: Sometimes work can feel like playing on the elementary school playground. You have the kids who seem to get along with everyone, the bullies, and then those who feel like they just don’t fit in anywhere. The key to all these scenarios is to keep an open mind.
Richman reminds us to evaluate ourselves first and foremost. If you are dealing with who you feel is a bully in your work environment, remember there is usually an underlying motivation behind their behavior. Maybe they don’t like change, or they disagree with you (and this is how they go about expressing it). Or the issue can have nothing to do with the task at hand, but the ‘bully’ could just be having a bad day. Richman advised having a one-on-one with said ‘bully’ to better understand their motives. Then you can more appropriately handle interactions with said person in the future.
The same mechanisms apply in a networking situation. If you already know some individuals are a bit rough around the edges, you may just want to avoid them. However, “if they are a part of your network by default, focus on what you need to do to maintain a cordial relationship at the most basic level. Focus on how to have a comfortable working relationship that allows you both to function in the same environment,” Saad recommended. “Remember, you can't control the actions of other people, but you can control how you act and react.”
2) Learn to Earn: Learning can lead to more earnings. “Training, learning and development opportunities do not need to come from a formal degree program,” Saad said. For instance, she recently completed a continuing education program focused on international migration. “It enabled me to better communicate about this complex subject matter, but it was also beneficial for my personal enrichment and makes me a more attractive candidate for future positions as I move up within the ranks of my agency.” If at all possible, “try to look for training, learning and development opportunities that will benefit you in multiple capacities,” Saad said.
This message probably rings most true if you find yourself struggling in a specific area - say writing. The nice (and possibly terrifying) thing, is that we all have to write at one point in time throughout our day, even if it’s just a text message or emails. Richman suggested to view writing e-mails as an art that you can practice daily. “One of the most important parts of communications is "Intent vs. Impact" or what you said and how it was supposed to be taken vs. how the person interpreted it and the impact it had on them,” he said.
3) Be what you want to be: Don’t let titles or your personal concerns stop you from being who and what you want to be. For example, some people worry that a graduate education is a necessary prerequisite to becoming a senior leader in government. Saad said that “while it would be helpful, especially in qualifying for that first opportunity in government, on-the-job experience, outstanding performance and proven success as you work to get to the senior level are equally important.”
Self-confidence plays a key role here, too. “Selling yourself is really about two separate things: Selling your brand and selling your accomplishments. If I'm talking to people I want them to at least take away that I'm articulate, smart, friendly, and respectful after every interaction,” Richman said.
In the end, becoming a senior leader in government is obtainable and you can do it! But, if you still want to know more about becoming a leader in government, register for our next NextGen event, Inspiring Government Innovation Through Training and Leadership Programs.