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Federal Outlook 2024: Leadership Challenges and Opportunities


Tara Carcillo

Date Published

Jan 04, 2024
9 minute read

The Clearing excels at helping leaders address the challenges confronting our world today. Given the evolving preferences of the workforce, dynamic technology demands, and the imperative to strike a balance between the two, CEO Tara Carcillo shares her insights on what 2024 has in store for federal leaders. She outlines actionable steps leaders can take to enhance their chances of success, highlighting The Clearing’s strategic positioning to support and contribute to their goals.

2023: Resilience in the Face of Change

I am continually surprised and inspired by the ongoing resilience of federal leaders, and 2023 was no different. While many environmental factors continue to impact how people lead, particularly within the public sector, I observed a continuing commitment to endure and demonstrate results. I don’t expect those challenges to slow down in the future. In 2024, leaders will face the presidential election cycle, volatile dynamics occurring across the globe, and increasing demands within their organizations thanks to digital and technological advancements. It amounts to leaders at the federal level transitioning from the era of COVID-style management practices to navigating a management landscape that is different yet equally unpredictable and volatile.

Federal leaders’ ability to acknowledge these environmental factors while continuing to define progress generally and inside specific lines of business, coordinate next steps, and develop talent  – is notable. It is also critical because the rate of change is such that leaders cannot step back and wait. Continuing to make decisions in high ambiguity and rapid change is taxing. Endurance, resilience, and commitment to progress observed in 2023 will continue to serve leaders well in 2024 and beyond. New approaches may be required to fulfill these demands.

2024 Federal Leadership Challenges

When considering federal leaders’ challenges in 2024, I am reminded of the Right vs. Right PRIME. In this case, I anticipate leaders forced to make more Right Versus Right decisions than ever. Here’s an example.

What do you invest in when challenges require people and technical resources? These decisions are more frequently becoming either/or instead of both as funding continues to radically shift or be eliminated based on where we are regarding the deficit in our federal budget cycle. Consequently, leaders must consider whether to allocate resources to a technical strategy or focus on enhancing their workforce’s capabilities. Those will be really hard judgment calls to make. And while funding issues have always been present, the current climate amplifies them.

The additional challenge I anticipate on the horizon centers on the human experience of leaders. We all experienced “the great resignation;” however, many of those resignations happened at mid to lower levels of organizations. That caused several issues, including burnout for those who stayed – and leaders were no exception. In 2024, I think more and more of the senior-level leaders will begin to feel the effects of having endured the past couple of years, which will lead to increased transition.

Although the departure of senior leaders isn’t inherently negative, leadership is a distinctive skill that often requires years to develop and mature for effectiveness in a particular role, making it challenging to find a swift and seamless replacement. There is also the legacy knowledge and ability to navigate an organization that takes a lot of work to learn quickly. Losing this experience and the social capital it brings can result in extended periods of “acting leaders” and the challenges of this extended temporary mindset. However, it doesn’t have to. Organizations facing the challenges of leader fatigue must address those issues, guided by customer experience data – this intelligence is enduring and can make the case for change otherwise directed by the permanent leaders of the past. At the same time, new leaders bring about positive disruption to organizational processes and logic.

New leaders offer fresh perspectives – which may help make some of those Right vs. Right decisions easier – and new ways of assessing value and results can create opportunities for growth across an organization. And while it may take time for a new leader to develop the same organizational rapport, new leaders can use tools to speed up that process. For example, understanding organizational networks across levels and the informal leadership roles that happen organically is key to preventing work from “seizing up.” I recommend Network Analysis, which uses The Clearing’s proprietary DISCERN™ tool to help leaders understand those informal relationships critical to their organization.

By identifying how individuals and groups relate to one another, where key brokers or influencers exist, and making intentional choices about how to leverage their organization’s networks best, leaders are better positioned to address a range of topics and facilitate a smoother transition.

How The Clearing is Approaching 2024

We previously discussed the anticipated challenges for leaders and organizations in 2024, including factors that will influence our teams’ approach in the upcoming year. Similarly, here are some areas where we expect to assist federal leaders in navigating the challenges ahead.

covering the gaps
Current events, budgets, and pandemic fallout will challenge leaders and organizations. As such, we must ensure those changes and their impacts are acknowledged. One way to do that is simply to be aware that as organizations and environments change, leaders’ roles will also change. This is recognizable in where and how leaders are spending their time. A monthly retroactive calendar scan can reveal organizational needs that the leader may fulfill that can otherwise be replaced with other talent or automation.  New responsibilities are being placed on leaders implicitly, adding to an already heavy formal load. Factor in geopolitical factors and the increasing nature of threats to organizations – for example, data security – and many leaders will face competence and capacity challenges to keep up. In short, these challenges will create gaps that must be filled. To thrive, leaders must collaborate closely with other senior leaders, addressing challenges beyond their specific domains. Additionally, external partners with expertise will be essential. This necessitates organizations like The Clearing to adapt continuously, ensuring that these gaps are effectively covered, preventing any loss of ground for the government.

finding ways to listen
Meeting these challenges will require leaders to find new and different ways to listen to employees across levels. The workforce is internalizing these challenges and stressors. We must continue to help leaders establish avenues and mechanisms for listening to how people are experiencing their workload. Those insights will be crucial in setting organizations up for success. It is a key asset for the leader seeking to lead a diverse workforce.

Tackling Technology
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue their influx into the organizational environment. Leaders will confront the challenge of responsibly managing these tools without hindering their use. Given these tools already exist, the process must be swift, and learning must coincide. This entails navigating the intersection of technology, legal considerations, and compliance—a balancing act resembling a high-wire performance. There may be moments when the instinct is to pause, but halting abruptly could result in losing balance rather than maintaining a stable position. Aiding leaders in navigating digital responsibility and ethics is another crucial area to which we anticipate contributing.

ways of working
It may seem like a never-ending discussion, but workplace models are still evolving. I continue to observe a push for a return to the physical office driven by several factors. While conducting select business operations in person and in real time is important, I also believe that the nature of societal and global events will sometimes preclude us from consistently meeting in person. This means organizations of all types must understand what it means and be ready to operate in a fully virtual environment. While virtual practices have improved immensely, I don’t believe the collective “we” have maximized virtual work’s potential. There is more to learn, best practices to share, and more technology to explore.I look forward to working with leaders and our Workplace team to set organizations up for workplace success.

Parting Advice

We’ve explored the potential knowledge, capability, and skills gaps arising from new challenges in 2024. My foremost advice is to encourage leaders to engage in collaborative discussions with their peers across agencies and sectors. Whether it involves small agency-to-small-agency interactions, engagements between larger entities, or cross-sector exchanges, the sharing of insights and best practices will significantly contribute to securing organizational success.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that identifying the right vendors and partners will also play a pivotal role in implementing these learnings and best practices. If any of the aforementioned resonates with you, if you’ve identified an organizational need you’re eager to address, or if you have insights to share, I would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation.