Identifying and Preparing the Next Generation of Federal Leaders

Beyond just the typical leadership development opportunities, Federal leaders need something that will help them to focus on the unique issues and challenges of operating within the Federal government.

More than 25 years ago, advocates for enhanced government effectiveness founded Excellence in Government (EIG) Fellows, a robust leadership training program targeting senior public-sector employees identified as high-potential candidates for senior management roles within the Federal government. The EIG Fellows program, now run by the civil service-focused nonprofit, Partnership for Public Service, was created, in part, in preparation for the aging Federal workforce.

“Even in the early ’90s the silver tsunami was clear and emerging, and there was a recognition that we would need to begin developing and cultivating that next generation of leaders,” says Tom Fox, Partnership for Public Service’s vice president of Leadership and Innovation. “At the same time, there was also this push for innovation and effective government that still continues to this day. The work is never really done. There was a recognition that beyond just the typical leadership development opportunities, Federal leaders would need something that would allow them to focus on the unique issues and challenges of operating within the Federal government.”

Issues such as election-cycle changes in the executive and legislative branches, politically charged budget battles, competing constituent priorities, and the Federal government’s sheer size and scope have remained ever present. However, a quarter-century closer to the silver tsunami, these Federal management challenges are compounded by a struggle to recruit and retain, much less prepare, the next generation of leaders.

Defining Leadership for the Next Generation

Traditionally, we have thought of leaders as the preeminent subject matter experts in their respective fields. Today, with a world of information at their fingertips, new hires are looking to their leadership for more than technical knowledge or business acumen. Based on what we now know, leaders of the next generation will be people who can set a clear vision while acting as coaches and mentors to their teams.

Our next successful leaders are likely to be the managers who will foster more of a feedback loop. Millennials, who grew up in the age of Facebook and are accustomed to “likes,” generally require more feedback than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. This is not to say the next great leaders will be micromanagers. They may be more “hands on,” but that largely will be in the context of guiding their team members’ own development.

The next generation of leaders will be measured by their collaboration, transparency, and flexibility. That is what is needed to build an environment in which the new workforce will thrive. It also will be a prerequisite for attracting and retaining the best and brightest new talent, which is important for any workforce but none more so than the Federal government.

Identifying the Next Leaders

Successful Federal agencies will assess potential leaders’ creativity, persistence, and innovation in order to facilitate change. They will reward aspiring leaders for thinking outside the box about ways to make work better and more efficient. This may require today’s senior government executives to be willing to take a chance on people who think differently. That may be scary for them, but identifying leaders with strong vision is especially important for the Federal government in the coming years.

“As effective as any means is giving individuals the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities and monitor and observe their progress firsthand—putting them on task forces, assigning them to special details, anything that allows them a stretch assignment to prove that they have the mettle—is probably the best way of identifying folks,” Fox says.

Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders

In addition to creating an environment of continued coaching and personal development, organizations would be wise to set up formal leadership education programs and learner communities where people have the opportunity to collaborate, share content, and learn from each other.

As discussed in my February article, online learner communities should be assigned community managers to ensure the integrity of the content exchanged. In an ideal scenario, the community manager would be the current executive of that particular topic area, often enabling natural collaboration between current and future leadership for some time prior to the formal transition.

Whether in person or online, core learning and leadership development groups provide the opportunity for aspiring leaders to focus on both individual and group dynamics. The EIG Fellows program does just this, dividing the Fellows into cohorts that remain in place over the course of the yearlong session in which they partake in formal classroom learning, best practices benchmarking, and collaborative action-learning projects. Additionally, throughout the session, each participant’s development is guided by executive coaching.

Partnership for Public Service describes EIG Fellows graduates as “innovators whose creativity in problem solving stands up to the complexity of our 21st century challenges…helping government effectively defend the homeland, ensure public safety, protect the environment, respond to natural and man-made disasters, improve public health, and serve those in need.

If you would like to share your best practices for public-sector workforce succession planning, please send an e-mail to for potential inclusion in an upcoming column.

Darci Hall is vice president of Learning Solutions for Xerox Learning Solutions, where she is responsible for growing, delivering, and developing high-impact learning solutions for Xerox’s clients.


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