“Leadership” is a word that gets a lot of use. It also brings with it a lot of expectations. Communities seek strong leadership from elected representatives, whatever the level of government. Many wish our world had more political and business leaders who demonstrated compassion and empathy, particularly during times of crisis. We also want our top sports champions to be good role models – to lead by example. In local government, we need leadership to help our communities, and our organisations, to develop and grow. Yet good leadership is not always easy and it takes practice. And the concept of leadership in today’s organisations is changing; so called “soft skills” are just as if not more highly valued in leadership roles than technical competencies. At the same time, in local government as in the workforce more generally, there are significant numbers of employees fast approaching retirement age. Of course, leadership is not just about hierarchies, nor age or length of service. Leaders are found in all walks of life and at all levels within an organisational structure. Nevertheless, the emerging workforce trends do present challenges and also opportunities for us to grow new leaders from within our organisations. This article explores some of the ways in which the local government sector can foster those future leaders.
Today’s leaders are not just managers of people and stuff. They need to provide vision and purpose, be good strategic thinkers, have high emotional intelligence, to inspire high achievement and at the same time, to be humanistic and compassionate. Leadership in local government is a complex vocation, distinguished by the necessity to maintain a fine balance between the needs and aspirations of the community, of political leaders, and of the organisation. While it’s been said that some people are born leaders, in reality most of us need a little help. Like a good seed can grow into a great tree with the right soil, sunlight and water, so too can good people thrive as leaders if properly nurtured.
The theme of this year’s LG Professionals Australia national congress is, “The Future Local Government Leader”. The peak body for local government professionals runs a number of programs aimed at developing emerging leaders within the industry. It offers the Raymond West Scholarship program and delivers the annual Australasian Local Government Management Challenge program – arguably Australia’s top professional development program for emerging local government leaders. Local Government Professionals Tasmania runs an Emerging Leaders Program, with a focus on equipping developing leaders with an understanding of the key challenges facing local government in the future and the competencies to develop leadership abilities.
At the individual Council level too, there are great examples of programs and supports in place to identify, nurture and support new and emerging leaders. From in-house leadership training, to off-site training and development, aspiring leaders may also be supported to take on extra formal studies in management, or to attend relevant conferences and seminars. Others in leadership roles may also be encouraged to access one-on-one coaching.
People aspiring to leadership are often advised to seek out mentors. Organisations can support this by putting mentoring programs in place. At City of Launceston we’ve been trialling an in-house mentoring program for a group of team leaders, matching them with other leaders from different parts of the organisation, offering exposure to alternative approaches and leadership styles. At the start of the program mentees were interviewed to identify what their current priorities were and what support they wanted to help them reach their professional development goals. This helped to identify the best-fit mentor for their needs. Once the mentees and mentors were matched, they then set their own pace and format, based on mutual needs and availability.
We surveyed the participants three months into the trial to see how it was going and what value it offered for them and for the organisation. Some of the responses were:
- Great value – we have an obligation to support staff in their development and mentoring is an excellent way of achieving this
- I think it is highly important for succession planning and if we can capture the existing knowledge in our emerging leaders we can continue to move forward whilst understanding where we have been.
- Better understanding, better relationships and better practices.
- Greater connectivity and understanding between various departments and levels ofmanagement, resulting in a more humanistic workforce
- These mentoring sessions are beneficial to all employees to continue to grow skills, knowledge and confidence. They have the ability for improving communication and strengthening relationships across directorates.
- This is a great way to empower and support upcoming leaders. It can also…[help] mentors with their own day to day matters. Building relationships and investing in our leadership team is key to improve culture and productivity.
Without exception the mentees and mentors said that they intended to continue with the arrangement, and that both they and the organisation had and would continue to benefit from a mentoring program. The initial feedback from this small group provides some good insights into how a formal leadership support program could potentially be extended more widely across the organisation.
Brené Brown defines a leader as, “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”1 We know we have a looming issue within our sector as our senior leaders contemplate their retirement. We need to plan for and nurture the future leaders who are now emerging. And not just in our own organisations. If we think more broadly, by investing time and energy into growing good leaders, local government generally and the communities that it serves, will be all the richer in the long run.
I’d love to hear what others are doing within their workplace to find and develop the next crops of leaders, contact me via email Leanne.Hurst@launceston.tas.gov.au.
Director Development Services, City of Launceston
LG Professionals Tasmania Board Member
1 Brené Brown, Dare to Lead (London: Vermilion, 2018), 4.