What’s the matter with government culture?
Steven L. Katz, author of “Lion Taming, Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses, and other Tough Customer,” argues the problem is that government attracts too many introverts, perpetuating “government of loners” who don’t want to rock the boat. In order to foster innovation, he recommends that agencies recruit extroverted personalities.
Most federal workers who weighed in were skeptical that an agency of full extroverts would solve the government’s woes.
Being introverted isn’t about being a misanthrope, some introverted employees pointed out.
“Introverts make up slightly less than 50% of the Federal workforce,” said Carol Davison, a human resource specialist at the Department of Commerce. “There is nothing wrong with us. We aren’t afraid of people, lacking in social skills, timid, super sensitive, or need to feel safe. We are introverts because we lose energy to social interactions, so we limit it.”
Several also professed to being mistaken for extroverts because any personality type can exhibit the qualities of a good leader. Explained Kenneth Wells, an employee with the Navy, “I have been in positions where I had to act like an extrovert and make decisions quickly and decisively. Just remember that person who you think is an extrovert may be an introvert. All he or she wants is to get the job done, and then spend a little alone time to recharge and work on the next assignment.”
Others noted the importance of diversity, too.
“Promoting inclusiveness and creating a culture where everyone’s input is sought before making important decisions gives people a sense of ownership,” said Gigi Bryant, another Navy employee.
“What’s important is that employees feel they are kept aware of major changes and they are asked for their thoughts and opinions. “By using everyone’s skills, we are able to achieve much more,” she said.
The bigger problem, most who weighed in said is not an imbalance of personality types in the office. Instead, it is a culture that suffocates innovation.”
“A lot of people turn into loners as a result of the environment where they work, not just because their personality tends towards the more introverted side of the scale,” said one federal employee who asked his name be withheld. “They’ve had the innovative spirit sucked out of them.”
Feds have also seen many talented employees leave government because their contributions were not rewarded.
“Those willing to push the edge of the envelope and be innovative are often sidelined, or even punished,” explained Charles Ray, a career federal employee. “It’s not enough to recruit people like this. If we don’t change the culture, we’ll forever be recruiting their replacements because the really good ones are likely to vote with their feet.”
Perhaps the most important ingredient for success has little to do with being an introvert or an extrovert, said Kristina Nelson, an employee at the General Services Administration. Leaders must be flexible and tenacious, she said. “When repeatedly told ‘No, unfortunately we can’t do that because of x, y or z, but it’s a great idea’, that just means taking a different, albeit respectful, approach,” she said. “If you truly believe in something, it’s always worth the effort. That’s one trait I’ve noticed in great leaders regardless of type.”