Matt's Articles

Servant Leadership in Government

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting the Director of Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS), no not Mark Harmon, the actual director Andrew Traver. He is an NIU alumni, go Huskies! Director Traver delivered an excellent speech for young people. He spoke about his career path and the challenges that come with a life dedicated to criminal investigations. He also spoke about the challenges leading NCIS with its massive breath of responsibilities and locations around the world. Given this complexity, I asked him how he prioritized his days, weeks, and months. His answer did not focus on himself at all, but on his teams. The Navy sets the mission. He works with the top leaders to translate that mission, so it is meaningful to the NCIS field offices. The offices operate in roughly 190 countries. His field leaders are responsible for knowing the unique issues in their location and executing that mission based on their local knowledge. This is of course because they understand their needs better than he can from the central office. I felt that this was a great answer, but it didn’t answer how he spends his time. I asked him to clarify how he sees his role. He told me his job is to spend time in the field. To talk with his people on the front lines of the organization. To understand their challenges, to work better with partners, and to discover best practices. The knowledge he gains is fed back into the organization to improve his middle management. This was an excellent answer! It is servant leadership and it was refreshing to hear a leader speak so naturally about it. You might ask, how does he know this form of leadership is working? He monitors and has seen year over year improvement in employee satisfaction. More important than this and contrary to what you see on television, none of his agent have had to fire their weapon in the line of duty since 2014. Well done, Director Traver. For me personally it is further evidence of the power of servant leadership. NCIS is a highly complex organization with mission critical responsibilities. If servant leadership is effective there, then it will work anywhere.