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Feature: Leadership and Today’s Civilian Workforce
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Amy JohnsonBY AMY JOHNSON (P406)

Over the past several years I’ve seen more and more leaders unable to come to grips with today’s civilian workforce. We have all seen and heard the complaints but rarely hear effective means to address how to push creativity and innovation and empower employees with a sense of loyalty to their boss, organization, and mission I believe you don’t need to look much further than a quote that I have posted on my desk to remind me of those who continue to view the world as “can’t do” rather than “let’s give it a go.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
—President Theodore Roosevelt, delivered April 23, 1910, at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France

These simple but powerful words were said over a hundred years ago, but they lead me to recommend tidbits of advice as you approach today’s civilian workforce:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—embrace and reward failure as it often leads to success.
  • Be a doer as a leader rather than a critic—doers often work harder and longer and often aren’t recognized, but they can look themselves in the mirror each morning.
  • Embrace and step into the arena for the most challenging tasks—brace yourself to be vilified by those not wanting to make changes.
  • Be positive and want to come to work, want to be productive, and don’t limit yourself to “it’s always been done this way.”
  • Organization culture may be too difficult to engage in the arena. If so, leave, as there are other arenas open for those willing to engage.

In an effort to not state the obvious, as senior leaders in the Federal Government, we all face critics, stagnant mission, an unmotivated or unwilling workforce, and a sense of mistrust of senior leaders as they come and go along with not-so-bright ideas. I’d ask you to read the quote above to your workforce at your next town hall/employee engagement gathering, and I would hope you would see a shift by some of those skeptics so the potential for change.

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