Focusing on influencing, inspiring, and investing in people to bring their strengths and talents to the conversation is part of the engagement process that focuses on being effective and delivering performance. We first have to focus on people, then performance and then the processes. All too often we start with process, then performance and last the people. Just like Simon Sinek says, Start with Why. Our “why” as leaders in government is our people.

As someone who is high in communication and maximizer (Clifton Strengths), I naturally see people through a lens of strength. I care deeply about the development and growth of people. I love to celebrate, recognize/highlight and share stories about the growth, success and accomplishments of each person to help provide encouragement and foster momentum. An attitude of gratitude for their contributions as humans goes a long way. This allows people to feel valued, known and seen by me and the organization.  

In government, we have to recognize that our responsibility as leaders is ‘improving other’s lives’ and therefore we have to create a culture and environment where people can feel supported to grow, develop and build momentum in the direction of their potential and contribute by adding value to our collective purpose i.e., create new leaders at all levels.

In reality, one of the greatest opportunities for effective leadership and innovation is evolving managers/supervisors into leaders and is critical to the success of the team’s effectiveness and innovation. And this requires showing them respect, believing in them, supporting them, trusting them, and giving them opportunities so that they can experience it and give it in return. This requires a leader to care, support and invest in the talent. Often we talk to them about leadership and innovation, yet we don’t always take the time to show them the difference, or align our talk with our actions to let them experience it, so they fall back to the mindset of how they believe they got promoted to the position for their technical expertise. As a result, they inform and instruct their teams how to do things like they did technically, which stifles leadership development, creativity and innovation. 

It’s important that we dutifully develop the leadership within people early and now, so they are fully prepared when they are in a position of authority, rather than trying to fix them when they are there, because we didn’t invest in them when the stage wasn’t as big or spotlight as bright. It’s a lot better to learn when the stage and spotlight are in alignment with your abilities to lead people. Otherwise, the Peter Principle takes effect and you will find yourself out in front of your skies, so to speak. Prepare and promote people who are already demonstrating a momentum towards building teams and influencing their current team to work with other teams.

Leaders, I believe, can start with their strengths and lead with their heart and help others discover both. Start showing them now.

It’s by empowering/engaging and influencing/inspiring our people, not as resources, but as human beings and talent that allows them to be effective and innovative.  And when we stop treating people like numbers, our numbers go up. 

Our teams want to be part of doing and leading government differently or better, yet there are a lot of rules, standards, policies and beliefs that create excuses or reasons to say, ‘no, can’t and won’t’. I know, as we had success with it in Eastvale, that we can create more ‘yes, can and will’ mindsets and approaches, which becomes contagious and exciting. Yet we need to develop leadership that is ongoing, adjustable, flexible and dynamic. As we restore humanity in government by both focusing on developing our people and teams and their strengths and talents to serve the people and customers, we can become more effective and innovative.

It’s a leader’s responsibility to ignite the passion by utilizing each individual’s unique strengths and talent. In most cases, the unique talent has nothing to do with their transactional work. When you empower and engage an individual’s unique talent and passion, innovation goes up. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,”John Quincy Adams. 

We also have to create and celebrate a diversity of strengths, thoughts, beliefs, and values. The most destructive lack of diversity in the world is groupthink and censorship of ideas. We have to allow people to be heard, seen, welcome and safe to share their ideas. Often our mother’s said, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a difference between being nice (telling people what they want to hear) and kind (telling people what they need to hear).We need more kindness on our teams and as leaders we have to create an environment that fosters kindness.

As leaders, we also have to help our teams identify the obstacles and barriers to success, whether real, perceived or learned (perpetuating the status quo) and utilize our experience to then remove those obstacles and barriers. 

As leaders, we have to help break down complex or challenging problems while also helping simplify solutions or alternative paths that can build momentum. When we reduce the risk of failure (or convert it into making mistakes by trying, learning and growing) and increase the reward and opportunities, it’s amazing how effective, engaged, and entrepreneurial people will become.

In summary, as a leader, strive to focus on the following areas, which I have experienced help create effective and innovative teams.

Aligned Vision – Only a shared purpose between the teammates and the team leader (employer) can create a genuine team.

Servant Heart – Authentic, caring, and emotional connections with people creates mutual trust and empathy. The saying, “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, rings true.

Passion for Vision and People – The fuel and energy that inspires and influences hope and belief in achieving the shared vision. A team needs visionary leadership.

Growth Mindset – When combined with the above three qualities, it stimulates the hard thinking and personal vulnerability that is necessary to see and try new innovative ideas.

Bias towards Action – Leadership is about the ‘movement’ of people, plans, projects with positive energy, purpose, persistence and passion. A ship cannot be led by a captain unless it is in motion. In James Uhl’s book Arch – A Framework for Leadership and Life , I believe he is the first leadership author which breaks down the root word ‘leadership’ and it is about movement. Not a position. 

Progress is more important than perfection – A focus on being perfect almost always comes from a place of fear (risk is more than the possible reward) and results in paralysis through analysis or defending the past/status quo or mediocrity/apathy. “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.” – George S. Patton Jr. Bottom line, the best plan does not win, the best intelligence and intuition does, but only when it is acted upon.

Take the Bullet – Step in and take the bullet when a mistake happens. Own it. Mistakes are proof we are trying. Celebrate the trying and learning when the team nails it. Give them all the credit. Watch your team realize you are helping them build momentum by reducing the risk and giving them the rewards for the wins. When they miss the mark, be a leader, stand tall, and take the bullet so that they can learn how to be effective at hitting the right target, which can always be a constant evolution. Some days we win, some days we learn, yet we show up and give and try our best!

Show up – Provide words of affirmation and encouragement. Be present! It’s not a matter of ‘do I have to be there’, or ‘should I be there’, the answer is ‘YES, I get to be there!’ This is a leader!

Positive Energy — In Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ he claimed  ‘any fool can criticize, condemn or complain – and most fools do’. Don’t be a fool! It is rare that someone that is doing more than you will ever criticize. Remember that! So look to bring your best positive energy.

Communication – All of the above require both listening and sharing stories, which results in more positive and effective performance and results. The most underrated and underused aspect of great communication is listening and asking really good questions. There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth.

Community Champion – Be, identify and create champions in your commUNITY and on your team. You have the ability to improve someone else’s life by how you lead with your heart. We have all experienced what it feels like to not be valued, appreciated, heard or seen. Make sure those that you work with and serve don’t experience that at work or in their life. It’s contagious when experienced. Be the difference maker in someone else’s life. It’s powerfully amazing and rewarding.