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Nick Wakeman

7 truths from a 20-year government career

A friend of my wife’s is retiring after a 20-plus-year career in government. He is one of Beth’s favorite people, and she shared his parting words of wisdom with me.

While he worked in the field of environmental policy, and not procurement nor IT, his lessons learned – “my truths” as he called them – are worth passing on. I’ve paraphrased, but here is their essence:

  • The work is about people. Listen and respond with respect.
  • Be a leader and a partner.
  • Problems are a failure of process, not people.
  • Effective communication is a big challenge, but essential to the mission.
  • Leaders provide direction, but staff delivers the results.
  • Common sense, collaboration and teamwork are the best way to take on complex, difficult problems.
  • Embrace process improvement and the need continuously adapt to change.

The target audience for his farewell message is people working inside the government, but his truths should ring just as true for the private sector.

At my core, I’m an optimist, but I also know that our country faces a laundry list of challenges from budget issues to security to the environment. Nearly all of those challenges wind their way down to government contractors in one form or another.

In some cases, such as budget cuts, it gets harder to attain success, but in other cases those same challenges create opportunities for new services and new ways of doing business.

These seven truths get at the heart of what government service is all about, for both the public and private sectors. If these seven truths inform your decisions each day, then you’re more likely to succeed than fail.

And even if you fail, you’re still more likely to be headed in the right direction. For each step back, there are two-steps forward.

My wife’s friend wrote his farewell with humor and humility. He also closed with some of his favorite quotes, so I’m reprinting them here, because, as he said in his piece, “I like them and I can.”

On people:

“Your most precious possession is not your financial assetsour most precious possession is the people you have working there, what they carry around in their heads, and their ability to work together.”----Robert Reich

On authority:

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”---Abraham Lincoln

On work:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely.”---Ralph Waldo Emerson

My wife’s friend called his 20-year career an “opportunity.” And that’s my final thought. Whether you are a government employee, politician, contractor or even a journalist, approaching your career as an opportunity and not a job is the best to bring value and meaning both to yourself and to your mission.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 05, 2014 at 9:48 AM


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