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Embracing positive leadership

Across many elements of responsiveness, an interesting contrast between leaders and other respondent groups emerges. Leaders feel more positively about their organisation’s performance, future, and employee morale than their rank-and-file colleagues. While 63 percent of global civil servants say that their organisation adapts what they do based on what works, this proportion rises to 72 percent of civil service leaders, and more leaders also agree morale is high in their organisation (64 percent) than the overall response score (54 percent). This suggests that leaders need to temper confidence with reality, widening their awareness of staff attitudes, capacity, knowledge, and resources.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘Employee morale is high in this organisation’

Leaders are also more positive about how they perceive themselves to be performing. For example, 56 percent of managers and non-managers agree that leaders are open to doing things in new ways to deliver better public services. This rises to 73 percent of leaders, suggesting that leaders could do more to communicate and demonstrate their openness.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘Leaders in our organisation are open to doing things in new ways to deliver better public services’

Positive, bold leaders have a pivotal role to play in building governmental responsiveness through culture change. In practice, this means injecting confidence across public sector organisations by setting a clear purpose for teams that aligns with overall organisational aims.

Leaders need to show that government projects and initiatives address the challenges that citizens – including their employees – currently face. This purposeful leadership was a major factor in the rapid pandemic response, fuelled by collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and agility.

Many public servants responding to the survey also call for bold leadership. One respondent from the US says transformational leadership is needed to provide an “empowering
vision for people to have opportunities beyond the hamster wheel” of day-to- day duties. Another US respondent urges organisational leaders to better understand the workflow of their organisation.

Professor Alexander Evans, who teaches public policy at the London School of Economics and is a former strategy director at the UK Cabinet Office, upholds that leaders are best placed to understand the bigger picture in organisations.

“If you’re sitting on the board or on the executive committee, you’re much more sighted on the scale of the challenges – but also the potential actions that can remedy them.”

Anders Persson, Sweden-based public sector digitalisation expert at PA, points out that leaders can be detached from the actual capabilities of their organisations.

“Given the high discrepancy between staff and leaders in most dimensions from resources to strategy, leaders need to step up. In Sweden, better digital leadership is a key focus for development.”

Next steps for responsive governments

By sharing insights with colleagues at all levels, those in senior positions can become an inspirational force within and beyond their organisations. Through purposeful, positive leadership, they can empower team members to think differently rather than simply churning out policy based on accepted norms.

This new way to lead will build morale, strengthen team resilience, and support the improvement of public services.