The government has always been a place for policy wonks, but according to one writer, it is also home to shy loners, and that is a major problem. In an editorial in the Federal Times, Steven L. Katz, author of "Lion Taming: Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses, and other Tough Customers" argues that the government has too many loners in it’s workforce.
"Government, in particular, attracts, rewards and promotes people who want to be left alone", says Katz, "unfortunately, a government of loners also harbors bad managers, the people who no one can figure out how they got or keep their jobs but they skillfully deflect scrutiny."
The problem of federal loners is a problem for three types of employees. First, specialists and experts who are promoted and now have to take on a managerial role. Second, headquarter employees who must deal with the downsizing of well-connected senior employees, described by Katz as "the glue." Third, young employees who have limited experience communicating and building productive relationships face-to-face. When loners are placed in these positions, they undermine the ability of the government to operate.
The answer, according to the author, is going to be found in hiring individuals with stronger leadership and social skills. These individuals are "frank and decisive and assume leadership readily", "quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies", "enjoy long-term planning and goal setting”, "enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others", and are "forceful in presenting their ideas."
Katz argues that individuals with these qualities will improve the ability of their federal employers to operate. Specifically, they will strengthen the relationships between agencies, handle interactions with citizens, and "simultaneously manage both the mission and change."
While Katz might be correct, the real challenge for federal agencies is building a work environment able to attract and hold onto these individuals, especially in an era of budget cuts and early retirement. Without the correct incentive structure, federal agencies will have a hard time building a coterie of future leaders in their ranks to replace the current generation of federal managers set to retire.
Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.