Leadership Gobbledygook – Enough Already!

Am I writing a bunch of leadership gobbledygook in my GovLoop blog?

I had to stop and ask myself this question after reading a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Trouble With Leadership Theories,” by Doug Sundheim. This short, but poignant article draws attention to the ways we toss leadership jargon, or as we say in the “biz,” GovSpeak, around in the workplace.

Do I really believe the theories I am putting out there each week, or I am just regurgitating a bunch of stuff I’ve read in books?

When I mention one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, do the people listening secretly think, “Who really uses this stuff?”

Hey, wait a minute, am I writing more leadership jargon in an article about avoiding leadership jargon?!

Good news!

I am writing from my own personal experience and not just throwing “Leadership 101” sound bites out there hoping I sound official. Admittedly, I do read a lot of leadership books, blogs, and articles because I like to “steal” helpful ideas from them, but I don’t automatically believe every theory I read. I have learned some of my most valuable lessons from my own work experience – especially from my mistakes!

In his article, Doug Sundheim says this is precisely how we need to share information with each other. Instead of just quoting from books or repeating leadership theories we have heard from others, we need to share what we’ve learned from our own tried and true leadership experiences. He describes how one of his clients asked him to write a one-page, “Personal Theory on Leadership” that contained his own personal thoughts on what makes a leader great, and he advises all leaders to do the same.

Okay Doug, and fellow GovLoopers, I’m going to get real! Here is my one-page “Personal Theory on Leadership”:

Great leaders inspire. They know that everyone wants to do something that matters – that is why bricks, buildings, streets, and libraries are inscribed with peoples’ names. Great leaders inspire others to do something big. They tell team members why they matter to the team and/or the organization, and they don’t say things like, “It’s just a job” or “You get a paycheck, what else do you want?”

Great leaders listen. A leader that works to understand others’ points of view, asks questions, acts on what he or she hears, seeks out ways to listen to the public before making a decision (especially those who are hard to reach), and encourages soft-spoken or timid team members to speak up, is a rare standout. Good listeners are often good leaders because they tend to be humble people who are truly interested in others, and they realize they don’t have all the answers.

Great leaders put people first.

It’s all about numbers, baby. Get those numbers up, out, and/or in.

It’s all about programs, people. Make your program fun, fancy and first-rate.

Wrong! It’s all about people! Put staff members, residents, partners, and customers first, and the numbers and programs will follow. Great leaders know that relationships are the key to success so they focus time and energy connecting with others in meaningful ways.

Great leaders don’t have over or under-inflated self-esteem. I am a selfish person at heart who really wants what is best for me. Wow! I don’t I sound like a fun person to work for, do I? What I am trying to say is that I know I have a natural tendency, as we all do, to do what is best for me, so I need to be careful — not paralyzed, but careful. I frequently “check” myself by examining my motives, considering the feelings of others before I speak, considering the impact my decisions have on others, and thinking about how the community, staff, management and others might view my actions, decisions, etc. However, I am not paranoid or timid either; my self-esteem is healthy, but I don’t let success turn me into a bull in a china shop.

Great leaders are honest and thankful. I wrote about these two rare, but essential traits in my “Are You a Leadership Freak?” blog. I believe these two leadership attributes really do matter, and not just because I read about them in a book!

That’s it. No leadership jargon, and no “stuff I’ve heard that works really great!” – just my one-page, personal-experience-tell-it-like-it-is leadership philosophy. What’s yours?

Hope Horner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Paul M Raetsch

Great post, Hope. As a retired SES I have been following the VA crisis and have been trying to figure out what the heck the SES crew in the VA health system were doing. Your no gobbledygook theory has helped me figure it out.
First, I doubt that the managers who were responsible ‘Listen’. As they were telling their staff of the 14 day criteria they must have heard or sensed the impossibility of the metric. The second trait that those who supported, ignored or endorsed the various gaming techniques completely violated was ‘honest’. Career ‘big deal government officials’ (such as I was) must have the character and strength to tell appointees, and careerists who were in a position to influence them, that the standards were impossible to meet and to then go to the MSPB when their ratings were lowered as a result.
Easy for an old retired guy, but I wanted to start a discussion on the failure of SES in the VA.

Gary Lyon

Great summary of universal leadership truths in my own experience. Would only add one other, though it is implied in yours already; great leaders are trustworthy…dare I refer to Covey’s “Speed of Trust” as a worthy read.

Paul Alberti

Great article, every supervisor, and leader needs to write his or her own one page personal theory – and post it in the office! Now the follow on question(s) – how do we get leaders and supervisors with the qualities that make great leaders? How do we set the standard – this is the kind of person we want in critical positions?
Instead of hiring the best technical skill set, we need to look for, encourage, and promote the best leadership skill set. We need a blend of people and technical skills to motivate and engage employees. A search in Govloop and Google shows thousands of hits on leadership skills and competencies, now we just need to get all these best practices in to our leaders so they can take root in our Agencies and Offices.