Do you need to have all the boxes checked in order to promote?
The answer is easy, no, you do not.
Last month, I wrapped up my Master of Public Administration degree and in my studies I approached the topic of diversity in local government, and more specifically, how to inspire women to take on leadership positions in government. What I found out was interesting…
You may already be aware that women comprise over half of the United States population, but what you may not know is that, according to ICMA, “by 2006, women earned 59 percent of MPA degrees while the proportion of men had declined to just more than 40 percent.” So if women make up more than half of the population and are earning more MPA degrees than men, why isn’t local, or federal government for that matter, representative of this part of the population in leadership positions?
After researching this topic to death, and spending multiple all-nighters chugging coffee, I finally found a reason that made sense. It’s not that women don’t want to take on leadership positions in government, it’s that they believe that before they can promote they must have all the boxes checked. This differs with men, who tend to apply for a position when they have a little over half of the boxes checked. I know, it may sound silly, but I can definitely relate to this. I have stopped myself from applying for many jobs because, after reading the job description, I thought that I didn’t meet all of the standards that the position was asking for. But the thing is, you don’t have to meet all of the standards, you just have to be willing to learn.
I have read this over and over, and believe wholeheartedly, that government leadership should be representative of the people with whom they serve. It is because of this that I think that government’s should be taking the necessary steps to achieve diversity and to encourage the growth and development of ALL staff members. Now, whether you achieve this through the establishment of a mentor program (inside or outside your organization), coaching, or by encouraging your employees to pursue further education or training, is up to you, but sometimes it helps to give your employees a little push and remind them that you are an advocate for their career development. Who knows, that little push could lead your employees on the path to the next presidency.
What are your thoughts?
It’s probably one of those things that falls into the “Important but not Urgent” quadrant, and that’s why so few leaders really get serious about addressing it until it’s in the “Important and Urgent” quadrant. By then, it’s almost too late. I’m talking about the issue of establishing a formal mentoring program. Formally. I’m talking about a bona fide initiative that involves the highest level of leaders in the organization. I’m talking about one where there’s critical thinking (not just criticism) and buy-in that translates into commitment and effort—not just cheer-leading and “check the box” assent.
At SGR we often say that a strategic leader has two responsibilities in addition to the other responsibilities that all other leaders have. The first is to instill the culture he/she wants into the rest of the organization. Ron Holifield, our CEO, says, “You build leaders from the ground up, but you instill culture from the top down.” The second responsibility of a strategic leader is to cast the vision for the future of the organization. Strategic leaders do not just focus on the task at hand, they keep the organization focused on the horizon and moving toward its destiny. Strategic Leadership is about the future.
Interestingly, mentoring has to do with both culture and future. Developing a mentoring culture, which is not nearly as likely without a formal mentoring program, directly impacts the future. Frankly, it’s hard for me to see how a strategic leader could be satisfied NOT to have a formal mentoring program in the organization because to neglect it is to ignore the inevitable retirements of key and influential leaders.
What could implementing and sustaining a first-rate mentoring program mean for your city or your organization? You could probably add to this list, but consider these benefits. A mentoring program helps with:
- Succession Planning
- Recruiting and Retention
- Social Equity and Diversity
- Bridging Technology Gaps
- Understanding Trends and Customers of all generations by all generations
It isn’t the only responsibility you have as a key leader, but there’s no doubt that it’s an important responsibility, so if it wasn’t already, let it be one of the things you determine to get done this year—before this year gets away from you, just like the last one did!