9 Ways Government Gets Leadership Wrong (And How You Can Get It Right)

9 Ways Government Gets Leadership Wrong

Leadership is important in any institution or organization.

A company, a school, a nonprofit, a country – their success or failure is dependent on their leadership.

Example after example has shown you can have the same people with different leadership and get completely different results.

Unfortunately, many leaders in our government are failing when it comes to leadership itself.

And the consequences? Drastic.

That’s also why there is so low trust in our governmental officials.

Thankfully by learning what they are doing wrong, they can fix it (if they want to), and you as a leader can learn from their mistakes so that you run better companies and organizations. 

What mistakes are they making, and what should they be doing instead? Here are a few of them:

1. They have the wrong mentality and focus

Regardless of political party or position, many of our leaders have the wrong focus and mentality.

Ideally, the goal, the mission, of our elected officials is for the good of the people they are there to serve – and notice the word serve.

As leaders, our job is to serve. In a company, we are to serve our employees. At a school, the principal serves their teachers.

In government, the leaders are supposed to serve the people they represent.

Unfortunately, just as it happens in companies and all types of organizations, many of our government leaders are about being served, not service.

They are about their career, their image, their status, and their reelection. They even put their party over the good of the people.

Some (or many) seem to be there for the perks and rewards.

When this happens, no matter the organization, people lose trust. And the leaders won’t make the best decisions or do the hard work needed because their mentality and focus are wrong.

As a leader, your focus should be to serve your people and work toward the accomplishment of the mission and goal, not yourself.

You should never see yourself as above those you serve or think they are there to serve you. When you do that, you begin to fail as a leader.

Also Read: 25 Major Signs of Leadership Failure (That Can Destroy Your Organization)

2. There’s no common goal

There’s no common goal

The best-running companies are those that have a common mission, common goals, and everyone is united to accomplish that goal.

It’s not one department versus another department where they see each other as enemies (such as marketing vs sales), but they are working together toward the mission.

Yes, there will be disagreement, and disagreement is good because it’s how ideas are vetted and the best decisions come about, but the focus is still the mission, not winning over one another.

In our government, there does not seem to be a common goal. Each party seems to be about themselves and their party, not the good of the country.

Yes, they say they are for the good of the country, but their focus often seems to be defeating the other party.

When you attack anything the other party does just to tear them down or play the blame game to one-up the other party, you aren’t about the mission and goal, you are about beating that party.

It seems parties treat each other as enemies versus people on the same team with the same mission. The respect seems gone.

Whether in government or whatever organization you are in, everyone should be focused on a central mission/goal. Everyone should be united behind it.

It’s not about beating the other team, department, or party, it’s about accomplishing the mission.

It sometimes seems many of our officials tend to forget that.

3. They do something just to say they did something

This ties into their motive and focus – if their focus was what was good, they wouldn’t do things just to do them.

This often happens because something happened in society or in the country, so to show that they are “taking action”, they pass some kind of law, even if it has no effect or makes something worse.

This can happen with any leader, and when questioned about the validity or consequences, the easy response is “At least we did something”.

This also ties into:

4. They often ignore unintended consequences

Sometimes laws are passed or policies are created just to show “action”. Sometimes something may seem like a good idea, but only the 1st level consequences are looked at.

It’s like deciding between going to the gym and eating junk food – focusing only on the 1st level consequences would cause you to eat the junk food because that is what makes you feel good right now.

Sometimes policies seem to solve a problem or look good on the surface, but when you take time to dive deep into 2nd and 3rd-level consequences, longer-term consequences, or consequences that you might not expect on the surface, then more problems occur, or the issues become worse.

Whether as an official in our government or a leader of an organization, you need to take the time to examine the long-term consequences of what you are doing as well as any possible unintended consequences.

Doing something to show you are doing something may seem good on the surface, but, besides losing the trust of the people who recognize that’s all you are doing, you must be careful about the unintended consequences that may occur from those actions.

5. They don’t look for the root issues

They don’t look for root issues

This ties in with the last two as well.

Sometimes leaders want to take action, so they do something to solve “the problem”. And they solve the surface problem, but that’s not the real issue. That’s just a symptom.

So laws keep being passed to solve symptoms instead of really examining and solving the real issues behind the symptoms.

It also happens in rhetoric. Too often, people assume they know the causes of issues or situations and they don’t take the time to examine what the real causes are. They don’t want to look at anything besides what they say the root issue is.

Then policies and such are passed, money is thrown at this issue or that issue, and it doesn’t solve the problem because it wasn’t the root problem.

Leaders of any organization can make the same mistake – you can keep taking action to solve the surface-level problems, but they keep coming back because you didn’t solve the root issues.

That’s one reason there are sometimes lots of bureaucratic rules and policies. “Leaders” keep creating those to put Band-Aids on problems instead of solving the real issue.

Instead, leaders of all organizations need to stop assuming the causes of an issue and really smell it out. Take the time to see what the root cause or causes are, then work to fix that.

Otherwise, you will keep having to deal with the problem and may create other problems along the way with your “fixes”.

6. Decisions are judged by intent versus impact

Granted, we all sometimes make decisions we think are right at the time to find out later that we were mistaken.

That happens. However, when that happens, we need to recognize that what we are doing isn’t working, admit it, and change it.

It’s great if your motives are altruistic; however, if it’s hurting instead of helping, then stop!

Throwing money at a problem may make one feel good, but if it doesn’t really solve the issue, it’s probably time to stop doing that, look for the root cause, and work to fix it.

Intent doesn’t mean anything if the impact is negative. I may have great intentions to try to fix your broken arm, but if my actions make it worse, it doesn’t really matter my intent. The arm’s worse!

If that’s what I’m doing, I might want to stop trying to help people “fix” their broken arms.

As a leader, you do need to have the right intent, but you also need to make sure your decisions are having the impact that you want. If they are not, then change what you are doing.

Don’t hold on to something because of pride or fear of admitting a mistake. Own it then work to make it better.

7. Ego and status are more important than learning and doing what’s best

We all are going to make mistakes. We rarely have all the information we need, and we do the best we can (at least, that’s the ideal).

When those mistakes happen, you need to own it and then work to do it better.

You should be about learning and doing what’s best, not protecting your ego.

Unfortunately, in government and elsewhere, leaders often hang out to decisions and defend them, not because they are right, but because of ego.

They don’t want to admit they were wrong or made a mistake. They don’t want to give the other party leverage to say “I told you so.”

Again, the problem is, when we do that, we are not doing what’s best for our people, our organization, or our country.

Think about it: when you do that, you are letting your ego get in the way of what’s best for many other people.

8. It’s about blaming versus taking ownership

There is so much blame going on in our country. Anytime anything happens, the other party is the one at fault. It doesn’t matter if one party passed this or that party passed that, if it fails, the other party did that.

If something bad happens in the country, it’s someone else’s fault.

It’s pathetic, honestly. 

As a leader, when you cast blame instead of taking ownership, it makes you look weak as a leader. And blaming and playing victim keeps you from actually solving the problem. You are focused on blame instead of doing something to fix it.

Don’t blame. Take ownership and work to fix the problem.

Also Read: The 12 Key Principles That Will Make You A Great Leader

9. They are disconnected from those “below” them

It’s easy for governmental leaders to become detached from what is happening to the people they are supposed to serve.

They may think they know but generally don’t.

This, however, happens to leaders of any organization. The farther up leaders get, the more detached they become.

The problem is that many don’t realize that they are detached and disconnected. They think they know the answers and solutions and what’s best, but because they are detached, they don’t. They don’t have all the information they think they know.

So they make decisions and policies and laws to “help”, but they don’t really help because they aren’t based on reality.

These mistakes are hurting leaders everywhere

While this article is about governmental leaders and the mistakes they make, these mistakes are made by leaders of all organizations. Any leader can fall into these same traps, including you.

And, just as it can be harmful to our country when our governmental leaders make these mistakes, it’s harmful to your organization when you do as well.

These mistakes can destroy trust. When people don’t trust you, it hurts your influence and your ability to get greater results.  

It can lead to lower engagement and lower productivity from your team or employees.

Problems don’t get solved but may get worse. When you have the wrong focus, when you are about blame or don’t take the time to look for the root problems, you aren’t solving the real issues.

Learn from these mistakes and work toward being a leader that people can trust, who has the right motive, and who does their best to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  


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