Is the Federal Government in the Midst of a 'Leadership Crisis'?
The answer to that question depends on how you define “crisis.”
The press has been filled with articles about the looming retirement wave for Federal executives, which could result in agencies being forced to quickly fill key slots using antiquated recruitment and hiring systems. And results from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) indicate that agency leaders are not perceived to be fully engaged with their staff, which hampers mission effectiveness and efficiency.
I believe that a retirement wave, lack of engagement, and other indicators of a leadership crisis are only symptoms of a larger problem. That is why SEA, in partnership with Deloitte, launched the annual State of Career Leadership Survey, which was conducted in June 2017. That survey shed light on what current SES believes is the nature of the “leadership crisis” facing the Federal government.
More than 750 career SES responded to the survey and the results, highlighted in an eight-page report, were consistent across agencies and SES demographics. Key findings from that survey underscore the nature of the current leadership crisis.
First, current SES have a unified view of what it means to be a leader in the Federal government. This view is consistent with the legislation that created the career SES, the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, and appears to be part of the DNA of career senior executives. Those leadership characteristics include promoting visionary leadership, fostering collaboration and risk taking, and ensuring that the next generation of leaders is cultivated.
But when it comes to realizing those lofty goals, career SES report they are significantly hampered by structural barriers. Five key insights emerged:
- 92% of respondents agreed that career leaders should foster an environment “where it is safe to fail sometimes,” but only 61% said they are empowered to “implement meaningful change.”
- 98% believe that “people management skills are as important as functional expertise,” but only 57% believe that leaders are selected based on those people management skills.
- 76% believe that there are “exciting opportunities in the federal government for workers of all ages,” but only 46% believe agency leaders know how to manage a multi-generational workforce and only 22% said their agency is prepared to retain top talent.
- Less than half of executives said their agency has an agency-wide leadership development strategy and 74% said their agency has a way to identify critical skill gaps in their leadership cadre.
- Career executives are very concerned about the ability of their agencies to prepare for the future of work because they lack the digital skills required to be effective and are not empowered to restructure their areas of responsibilities to meet new requirements.
These findings are just a snapshot of a larger leadership mosaic that has emerged from SEA’s Survey. SEA will be diving deeper into the data and holding a series of roundtables and conferences to develop policy solutions to the issues that career executives have identified. The overall picture that emerges is of a career leadership corps that is deeply committed to public service, but feels hampered by larger forces out of their control.
If that’s not a leadership crisis, nothing is.
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