By Scott Boehm, January 11, 2021
We all need oversight. Although sometimes we may not want it. During our childhoods, we had oversight from parents, teachers, coaches, relatives and mentors. It wasn’t always pleasant, but think of where you might be today if you didn’t have it. If you are in a relationship with a significant other, you have oversight. Personally, I have had outstanding oversight in that area for nearly 30 years.
Real leaders actually embrace oversight because they continually display four characteristics: moral courage (integrity), accountability, empathy, and humility. In light of the political landscape of the past few years, let’s examine those characteristics through the lens of an Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Moral courage or integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. It is the most important leadership characteristic. Moral courage means leaders call balls and strikes – no matter who is pitching. Leaders also stick to their word, live by their core values, set the example, and follow through on their commitments. They apologize for their mistakes. They have their teammates’ and subordinates’ backs and don’t throw them under the bus when criticism comes their way. Leaders never bully others. I’m sure this is the case in your personal relationships with friends or your significant other.
So why can’t we expect, and demonstrate to others, that same behavior at work? Government employees are duty bound to put forth their best effort every day.
I often told senior leaders when they took over a new office to immediately invite the OIG to examine that office’s internal controls and business practices. Very few actually did it. The ones who did had thick skin, integrity, and called balls and strikes. Often, their “baby was ugly,” meaning their new office needed significant improvement. But after the OIG review, their office was more efficient and employee morale rose significantly because the new leader addressed employee concerns. The OIG actually can be there to help.
But it works both ways. Many new Inspectors General make two crucial errors. They focus on “gotchas” instead of improving efficiency; and they do not conduct thorough strategic planning when they take over a new OIG. I have found this latter action has the greatest impact on increasing future efficiency and effectiveness.
For years I have executed and taught the strategic planning process. If your OIG has an old strategic plan, without metrics and a Plan of Actions and Milestones (POA&M), FELTG can assist. And you owe it to your employees and agency because it is hubris and hypocrisy to look at other’s internal controls without examining your own.
Leaders are also accountable for their team’s results and are always seeking self-improvement. OIG leaders can demonstrate this in three ways: 1) conduct benchmarking for Best Practices after completing their strategic plan; 2) develop more robust annual planning and stakeholder outreach processes; and 3) analyze how their OIG computes return on investment (ROI). FELTG offers training and consulting in these three vital areas.
[Editor’s note: Scott will present two half-day virtual training sessions – An OIG Guide to Annual Planning and Benchmarking for Best Practices on January 27 and Strategic Planning for Federal, State, and Local Offices of Inspectors General on March 24.]
Leaders have empathy – the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. The most successful Inspectors General never played “gotcha” — the other crucial OIG mistake. They objectively evaluated agency operations and, often, found weaknesses. But they did so collaboratively with their agency stakeholders. Often, their stakeholders actually asked the OIG to come back and examine other business processes. Leaders are collaborative not adversarial.
Finally, leaders are humble. They realize that they don’t have all the answers. I once worked with an Army General who said, “Scotty, most people can’t see the big picture because they are looking at the world through a soda straw.” Humility means that you stay open-minded and seek advice and counsel from others, especially subordinates. Because you don’t grow unless, and until, you get out of your comfort zone.
During my military and federal civilian careers, I occasionally saw my superiors, peers and subordinates fail to live by these leadership characteristics. That’s when the system broke down, often leading to unnecessary personnel issues, low morale and substandard Agency or office performance. And it’s actually a really easy fix – just act like a leader and demand it from your supervisors, senior leaders, peers, and subordinates.
And if you disagree with my thesis try this: Take the supervisor you like the most and, also, the one you like the least. If each broke a rule at work, ask yourself if you could call balls and strikes no matter who was pitching. It’s a tough one, but real leaders do it every day because of integrity, accountability, humility and courage.
Stay safe and I hope to see you virtually and, in person, real soon! Scott@FELTG.com