Developing the Next Generation of Government Leaders: TOC Panel Leads the Way
On December 13 at the Ft. McNair Officers Club in Washington, DC, a panel of distinguished millennial government professionals shared a wealth of wisdom and perspective, as well as a roadmap for overcoming generational differences and preparing the next generation for bright futures in public service. The panel event, put together by Management Concepts and the Training Officers Consortium (TOC), was moderated by Tim Bowden (Executive Director of People and Performance Consulting at Management Concepts), and the panelists included:
- Jovanka Balac – Director of Networking Events for Young Government Leaders (YGL)
- Melinda Burks – Youth Outreach Chair and Treasurer of the Carl T. Rowan Chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG) and Senior Program Officer at the U.S. Department of State
- Michael Dukes – Program Analyst, Diversity, Recruitment Work/Life Division Departmental Management, Office of Human Resources Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Tim Bowden led the panelists through a series of questions, and then opened things up for a spirited audience Q&A. Here’s our paraphrased collection of the best advice and perspective shared at the event:
What are some of the challenges the government faces in recruiting and retaining millennials?
Melinda: There’s an image problem with how millennials perceive government work—it doesn’t seem like there’s technology in place or an appealing work-life balance. A lot of millennials aren’t exposed to or aware of the many career opportunities available in public service.
Jovanka and Michael: Agencies should place more responsibilities earlier in the career path of millennials, give them better proximity to their directors and higher-ups, and flexible workspace and schedules.
How do you think young professionals can effect positive government culture change that improves performance and career satisfaction?
Melinda: Millennials fight cultures of risk adversity. Managers need to coach and mentor millennials on soft skills, and they can teach millennials how to take calculated risks. Listen and connect, and there’s a lot to be accomplished by this workforce.
Jovanka: Any young professional needs clear exposure to opportunity, and needs to clearly see how leaders invest in their work. And if opportunity is not apparent, millennials will find a way to make it happen anyway.
Michael: Through proper succession planning and engaging with the diverse thinking that millennials bring, more opportunities will present themselves.
What advice do you have for millennials who aspire to leadership in the Federal government?
Michael: Attach yourself to leadership. Find ways to make positive change, and before you decide your way of thinking is the right way, find out why others think the way they do. Take flexible approaches to steps in your career.
Jovanka: Take your career into your own hands. Look for mentors, and look for leadership roles and opportunities (such as the government’s Open Opportunities program)—find or help create failsafe environments where you and others can experiment and grow with support from others. Millennials shouldn’t be stigmatized for considering moves between agencies, especially when it means they’re staying connected to public service and growing as professionals.
Melinda: To exercise your leadership muscles, you just have to do it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. And become comfortable experimenting and taking risks, no matter the critical feedback you receive.
What can millennials do to meet other generations “halfway”?
Michael: While other generations do need to cater to millennials, since they’ll be the next leaders and decision makers, the key is all generations should learn from each other. Constant change is a constant for millennials, and the way they think is different and valuable.
Tim Bowden: Though there’s a time and place for it, millennials can’t always be that “sole millennial” voice; they need to find and build a collective voice, by connecting on things like shared values with members of all generations.
Melinda: Being open to consultative relationships with colleagues is crucial. Coaching and mentoring are great for that—and coaching is more casual and equal for both parties. Career competitiveness and not being open to that consultative relationship can get in the way of professional progress, and millennials will need to work on their soft skills and communication skills—that’s exactly where it’s important to build strong, trusting relationships among different generations.
Jovanka: Inclusivity is huge. Millennials grew up doing a lot of team-based project work. They’re prepared to walk the walk of team communication.
Michael: Different generations should try to reach each other on personal connections, learn their differences, and find creative ways to overcome what seem like limitations and to appreciate differences.
What’s important to millennials about Federal service?
All: Work that matters, and transparency about how their work connects. We’re all together in government, with the same goal of serving people and making things better. Millennials find opportunities and challenging careers if they work in Federal government.
Much of the advice and opinion shared in this forum boils down to this: inclusivity and diversity of thought are crucial components to creativity and innovation, to overcoming generational differences, to making meaningful change, to long- and short-term talent development, and to so much more.
Ambitious young professionals will find truly meaningful work when they pursue careers in the Federal government. If older generations are open to making time for coaching, consulting with, and connecting to millennials (and vice versa), everyone will find excellent teammates, new avenues on the career path, and the rewards of work well done.