In my last post, I introduced 10 leadership principles that have served me well during my career with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and continue to guide my thinking, management philosophy and actions as I work with other leading public sector agencies. With this post, I’m taking a closer look at leadership lessons #1 and #2.

1. Focus on what drives your goals.

Ever noticed that it’s easier to develop and outline a vision than to execute it? To bring a vision to life, it needs to be followed with specific goals; a series of interim tactical objectives toward the goals; and specific steps by which progress toward the objectives can be measured. These four tiers – vision, goals, interim objectives and tasks to achieve those objectives – should help a leader set his or her priorities. And yet, even when we map out specific tasks, it’s easy to become sidetracked.

While working in state government, I recall many weeks where I worked incredibly hard. But when I reflected on what I had accomplished, I saw little progress toward my larger vision. That’s because my time had been consumed with activities important to someone else’s agenda. Does that mean you should ignore your peers’ or superiors’ objectives or tasks? Of course not. But as leaders, we must distinguish between day-to-day clutter and noise and activities and tasks that support the vision.

As activities present themselves, ask: Is this an activity that helps you make progress toward your objectives, goals and vision? Is it an activity that doesn’t align to your objectives but must command your attention? Or is it an activity that’s simply part of the day-to-day noise of state government? If it’s the third option, find a way to delegate it or avoid doing it at all. After all, if you choose to prioritize a “noise of state government” task, you’re making an implied decision to de-prioritize a task on your agenda.

2. Share credit. Own accountability.

Government by nature is risk averse. Employees are frequently trained – intentionally and unintentionally – to avoid risk. Unfortunately, risk avoidance can equate to driving the status quo. So, if you want to drive change, you need to support your team and let them share in the credit.

The private sector rewards success with increased compensation or bonuses. In the public sector, we recognize success with citations and plaques. Whenever an agency team from my office received one of these awards – for example, from the Secretary of Administration or the Governor – it was customary for the agency head to be in the front row holding the award. I had my own tradition: to stand in the last row. This was one simple, unspoken way that I reminded the team it was their success, not mine.

For smaller accomplishments, we presented awards at our officewide meetings. In acknowledging these achievements, we were careful to ensure that the recognitions reflected the breadth, depth and diversity of our office. From the receptionist to the Deputy Comptroller, everyone was thanked for contributing to the mission.

Conversely, if the office encountered a problem or challenge that required exposure outside the “family,” I was the face of accountability. Within the office, I held the teams accountable, but external heat was always mine to address. As a result, the teams knew they had protection to take risks, and when issues arose, they were able to stay focused on solutions, not blame.

In my next post, I’ll explore leadership lesson #3: Test your thinking against your moral and ethical compass. In the meantime learn more here and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Marty Benison

Senior Manager – Public Sector, North America

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