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Is Leadership Missing In Gov?

Federal employees are losing faith in their agency leaders, according to a new report from Deloitte and the Partnership for Public Service.

It was the first drop in effective leadership in 9 years. Employees gave effective leadership a score of 52.8 out of 100 points in the Partnership’s 2012 survey, a decrease of 2.1 points from 2011.

Dan Helfrich is a principal at Deloitte Consulting. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the decline in leadership has been consistent with the overall reduction in the index for the Best Places to Work survey that we saw in 2013.

“The results of the survey aren’t that surprising but they are sobering. It is a good wakeup call on what some of the issues are,” said Helfrich.

Complex Period of Time for Leaders

“Great leaders lead in all different contexts. But now the lever of compensation that is often used to reward and incentivize people has been taken off the table. To some degree that has created a complex environment for leaders. That being said, the leadership toolkit has a lot of tools and what we’re seeing is the most effective leaders are using the tools effectively,” said Helfrich.

Empower Your Employees

  1. What the data tells us is that empowering employees to provide their perspectives on key issues is the number one thing. Leaders that actively seek out that feedback and include the voice of the employee in decisions that are being made, create a level of empowerment that separates them from the average leader.
  2. Find creative ways to communicate the state of the organization. Communications needs to be more than a newsletter or occasional email. The savviest leaders are including employee councils.
    1. Leaders should launch websites or portals to collect employee ideas and then act on them.
    2. If leaders have a lot of employees in the field they should host events in the field.
    3. Do videos with people on the frontlines.
    4. When you are visible you are also making your employees feel good about the level of transparency within the organization.

Let Employees Speak

“The data on the question of how satisfied are you with the involvement with the decisions that affect your work, was surprising. It was below 50%. It is not necessarily about the decisions being made, it is about involvement,” said Helfrich.

Leadership Development

“For those of us that care about government leadership, we need to reflect on how we are investing in our leaders. Are we focusing on their development or education? It is not just about sending them away to leader education courses, it is about creating a mentality of leadership set of skills,” said Helfrich.

Feds Not Satisfied with their leaders

“One of the key questions is how satisfied are you with the information you receive from senior leaders? The answer to that question was an all-time low with only 45% of respondents saying they were satisfied. So senior leaders are not providing the information which has a direct relation to the empowerment issue.. So that double whammy is a big contributor to the decline in satisfaction we’ve seen year of year,” said Helfrich.


  1. You can’t rely on one form of communication and expect it to trickle down to every person in the organization. Need a varied approach.
  2. Be visible. Get outside the board room.
  3. Ask for feedback and then act on it. Create employee focus groups, councils or idea hub portals. Demonstrate that feedback has made a difference. It doesn’t mean you turn every decision over the consensus of the masses but it does mean there is a culture of bottom up influence.
  4. Invest in leadership development. The government has invested and continues to investe in leader education. But leader development is about how to apply certain principles in an organizational context. there are a lot of practical things that can be done to help leaders figure out how to do things like motivate a workforce when they’re in a pay freeze. We can do things to help leaders practice how they might deal with those situations in a cohort or lab environment. I worry that we are not spending enough time on these aspects of things that are critically important.

The report is based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Employee Viewpoint Survey.

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Martha Austin

Emily, I love your post. I especially resonate with the last paragraph about investing in leadership development. I agree that the current focus seems to be on applying certain principles within a corporate context. I am concerned that there is a great deal of focus on “applying the principle” and not enough focus on “developing the person so that they may apply the principle effectively and appropriately.” To stretch an overused metaphor, it seems we give 10 lb hammers to be wielded by hands that aren’t strong enough to hold them. Not only does every problem then become a nail, but the leader’s hand isn’t developed enough to use it.


The problem is antiquated internal processes that leave most of the decision making to the Directors of the Agencies and Agency subcomponents, or their representatives.

The problem is especially bad in the military, where generals have the authority to override legal decisions rendered in outside courts. Below is a good article on what can go wrong.

Most internal investigations favor the managers or officers, and only when the process gets out of the Agency does the victim have a (small) chance of getting a fair decision about whistleblower or discrimination claims and the like. Cronyism and manipulation of process is standard practice.

Hagel seeks changes to military code after outcry over handling of sex-assault cases http://wapo.st/Z4qSz5 via @washingtonpost


I would like to see the decision making for internal claims shift from individual managers to committees with representatives from employee groups such as Diversity Advisory Groups, Unions, OpenGov, etc.

Dannielle Blumenthal

The problem is our outmoded idea of what leadership means.

Leadership is NOT spoon-feeding information to the workers in little dribbling bits of Gerber baby food. We won’t have that anymore. We are not babies. We are old enough to vote, marry, drive cars and think for ourselves. Give us the tools and let us have conversations on company networks with leadership blessing and permission.

Leadership is NOT hypocritically saying one thing and then doing another, or being wishy-washy about what you mean. It IS modeling the vision in behavior – taking a hit for the cause – being unpopular if you have to.

Leadership is NOT taking credit for the work. It is using your power to renovate the organizational structures that hold people back. And then unleashing the workforce to do better it ON THEIR OWN.

Leadership is not a monologue but a conversation. It is recognizing that the value in the organization stems not only from the service provided or the knowledge produced, but from the SOCIAL FABRIC itself. The stronger that fabric the more durable the organization!