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Civil Service

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

5 leadership tips

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Leadership Statement
Jessica Ward
Jessica Ward

“Be inspiring!” “Be confident!” “Be empowering!”

It’s great advice, but how do we turn words into action?

10 months ago I re-joined the Civil Service after five years in the police. My role has been to help create the Civil Service Leadership Statement: from running sessions with civil servants around the country to find out what makes a great leader, to helping departments improve their leadership capability now that everyone has had their say. And, of course, publishing the Leadership Statement itself.

In this blog, I’ll round up the 5 top tips from the thousands of civil servants, Senior Civil Servant speakers, external advice and departmental activity we’ve seen; about how to turn aspiration into action on the three themes of the Leadership Statement - being inspiring about our work and its future, confident in our engagement and empowering our teams to deliver.

1. Don’t be afraid to learn

I remember when I became a new manager, frantically scouring the internet for tips on how to be good at my new role. And as I got stuck into ‘managing’, I never once thought about how I was leading by example, yet in reality I was and this seemed to chime with a lot of people when we created the Leadership Statement: the importance of noticing the effect that your leadership has on others, and learning from people that you admire.

Ursula Brennan recently blogged about being open to new ways of being inspirational, one of the themes of the statement. She said that sometimes imitation is the greatest form of flattery so don’t be afraid to learn from others. My current Deputy Director is great at speaking to big groups of people, and by watching her I’ve learnt to improve my own confidence.

Leadership events
Leadership Events

2. Take leadership into your own hands

At the roadshows you told us about so many practical ways that people around the Civil Service are increasing their confidence and showing great leadership. For example:

  • One Exeter - a network of colleagues who work in different departments and agencies in Exeter. From sharing printing resource, meeting room space, holding learning sessions - this network breaks down departmental silos to make a better working environment;
  • The ‘Digital Festival’ - colleagues at the roadshow in Nottingham held a digital festival with events planned over 2 weeks where volunteers with particular digital skills ran workshops for their colleagues to improve everyone’s abilities.

Think about which part of the Leadership Statement your team finds challenging; is there something practical you could do to help your team improve?

3. ‘Come out’ to others about what you find challenging

Keith McKiggan, a Deputy Director from DfID who co-hosted our roadshow event in East Kilbride wrote a really engaging blog about how he had learnt to be open with others about having a lack of self-confidence. 64 comments later, the blog is one of our most popular.

Many people recognised the ‘imposter syndrome’ that Keith described - when at meetings he kicked himself for not having the confidence to say something. The main thing to take away? Don’t be afraid to be open with others about what you find challenging, and don’t let your inner imposter take charge. The impact of an authentic leader cannot be underestimated.

4. Make people feel valued

Lots of people we met on the Leadership Roadshow said that it felt great to feel empowered and genuinely valued at work. David Prout, Director General at DfT, made a pledge at one of our sessions to invite junior authors of submissions in his department to the final meeting with the Minister where the submission was discussed, so they see the impact that their work was actually having.

Colleagues from HMRC in Nottingham spoke about the ‘Simply Thanks’ voucher scheme that works well to recognise good work. But there are even smaller, equally meaningful ways. Giving someone (even your boss!) verbal recognition, or involving team members in a decision-making process are all effective ways of acknowledging a person’s contribution and making them feel valued.

How do you make people feel valued in your team?

5. Give and receive great feedback

Debbie Cropanese spoke to us in a ‘60 second interview’ about being nominated for a regional inspirational leadership award at HM Courts Service. She seeks and gives feedback as much as possible at meetings, after projects, and at every opportunity, and uses it to continuously improve her own leadership capability - so why wait till the end of the year? Ask for feedback on something you’ve played a part in recently.

Colleagues in Birmingham said that feedback and communication was really important in their jobs, particularly because they were based in different locations but still needed to work well as a team. The impact of really good communications made the difference.

What about you?

So, that was a whistlestop tour of the 21 sessions, 23 blogs and interviews with inspirational leaders on, and over 800 civil servants who have connected with the Leadership Statement and committed to making a difference.

Once you’ve decided what you might do - deliver on your promise to yourself - why not add it to your objectives for this year?


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  1. Comment by Ken Mavadia posted on

    The leadership bigget virtue is inovation think on your feet for instant solution in everything you do in life. Sets the standard to follow for others.

  2. Comment by Paul W posted on

    Just read this item, and Jessica sums up really well in straightforward terms what good leadership looks like. I'm just sorry I didn't get to one of the roadshows for the leadership statement. What's great about the statement is that it's short and pithy, down to earth and straight to the point. In my view, much better than lengthy competency frameworks where people have forgotten the detail as soon as they've read it...So, well done for producing the leadership statement!

  3. Comment by Mr C J Bone posted on

    Good leaders are inspiring, but the Civil Service, whilst supporting the principle, fails to inspire leaders. Recent reports of NHS Senior Consultants, and my own experience in the MOD, is that challenging established proceesses and procedures to achieve efficiency savings are often thwarted by the process of budget allocation and methods imposed to "ensure fairness". Hence reducing the number of appointments a patient needs to attend at hospital reduces the funding allocated - no saving to the trust. Allocation of a contract to large company that has to subcontract to the original supplier after a lengthy re-tendering process - result more organisations requiring profit from smaller pot.

  4. Comment by Mary H posted on

    a true leader would not ask of their staff what they themselves would not be prepared to do, a leader must never lose touch of their team(s) and the problems and strengths that they bring to the office.

  5. Comment by Mark Dollar posted on

    One Exeter haven't broken down silos as much as may be imagined ; we are one of the larger CS / now ex-CS Agencies in Exeter (Highways England), and we have never even heard of them, never mind from them !

  6. Comment by Simon posted on

    This is the best article I have ever read on leadership:
    The Civil Service has a lot to learn because of its obsession with concentrating decision making in the few. Forget about being a super hero leader and forget about your own egocentricism about being 'inspiring' (the term frankly makes me ill). The answers to today's difficult problems are not vested in the few at the top; they did not get there by having any exceptional insight or intelligence, although they probably sold you that myth. The answers are in the minds of the many and need to be harvested through humility, participation and facilitation.

  7. Comment by David Jones posted on

    I am not sure that the term "junior authors" (see point 4) is either appropriate or desirable when trying to move away from the 'gradist' thinking which unfortunately remains so entrenched within the Civil Service - and is in itself, a barrier to 'empowering leadership'.

    • Replies to David Jones>

      Comment by Tracey posted on

      I agree with David Jones about "junior". I hear it used to describe people sometimes EO or HEO too. It is not a good term.

  8. Comment by J posted on

    'The impact of an authentic leader cannot be underestimated'. Really? I would much rather have an authentic leader than an imposter.

  9. Comment by William Baker posted on

    Given that there are approximately 21 professions across the civil service, it is telling that management is not accorded profession status. When this was raised with the executive/non-executive directors within my department, the reply was that they did not see any need for management to be a profession. Personally as a member of both MCMI and MInstLM I believe that professional management should be central to delivering excellent cost effective public services. I will believe that management and leadership is taken seriously within the civil service once it is accorded profession status.

  10. Comment by John Harrison posted on

    Says " The impact of an authentic (whatever that means) leader cannot be underestimated."

    The negative impact of a non-authentic leader also cannot, and should not, be underestimated.