Where we are headed: insights from conversations with over 500 public sector leaders

What an amazing year it has been here at Kim Vella Coaching! The team and I have had the opportunity to design and deliver many exciting leadership programs, which I have completed alongside my 1:1 executive coaching

One aspect of this year that stood out was the insights that have come from engaging with so many talented people within the public service. Our programs and workshops were so well attended that I’ve had the privilege of speaking with more than 500 leaders across an array of Commonwealth and state government departments.

These conversations have proven a definite shift in public sector leadership trends; and perhaps none more so than the departure from a conventional ‘deficit’ approach to a ‘strengths-based’ one.

While the pace of change is faster in some organisations than others, there appears to be a genuine intent to move away from a focus on what’s not working and instead seek to strategically enhance and capitalise on existing strengths.

A strengths-based strategy

The deficit approach has long been a foundational principle in many professions, where problem solving is best achieved by identifying an issue and acting to remedy or eliminate it.   

But true problem solving can take other forms that are as (or more) effective. Especially in times of change, honing in on what’s not working only gives you a greater understanding of that while limiting your perception as to how best to tackle it. In contrast, knowing what is working and seeking to grow that can lead to far better outcomes.

In our team building and culture change programs, we always want to know what people believe is and isn’t working in their group or organisation. It is only by gathering people’s views through inclusive processes that we are able to build good will and social capital, targeted education, and behaviour change support.

However, choosing to then deeply explore the potential of recognised strengths and what can be done to build on them is a conscious and critical decision that leaders must make.  

Uncovering and building on strengths

For public sector departments seeking to understand exactly what their strengths are, we can offer some generalised but highly relevant insights gleaned from our programs this year.

The following strengths consistently came up in our work with various Commonwealth and state government departments:

  • Communication.
  • Team building.
  • Collaboration (within and across teams).
  • Psychological safety (such as trust, engagement, and autonomy).
  • Achieving results.
  • Planning and strategy.

What’s interesting is that many of these also present as emerging risks. This means that failure to properly nurture them can quickly lead to backsliding which then paves the way for active risks to escalate.

Some of the active risks we have identified through our work include:

  • division
  • perceptual biases
  • finger pointing
  • disorganisation
  • performance management difficulties

To ensure active risks don’t escalate, and strengths are empowered to grow and thrive, leaders need to intentionally review and take deliberate action through practical initiatives that reach individuals and teams on a meaningful level.

What we see for the year ahead…

From our conversations this year, it seems 2024 will be a time to double down on the strengths-based approach – underpinned by inclusive conversations and education that supports people to adapt and translate their insights into practice.

It’s work that I am very excited to continue next year through team coaching, team building workshops, culture change programs, feedback forums, and individual executive coaching.

As we farewell 2023, I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone for their support, participation, and wisdom this year. Your insights help me grow personally and professionally every day, and I am grateful to have had the chance to engage with so many of you.

To learn more about Kim Vella Coaching programs and workshops, please call (02) 6198 3223 or email kv@kimvella.com.au.

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