• A clear vision and the involvement of stakeholders are key to achieving a positive impact, says @hickforco
  • What are the key traits that @matthewjdowd of @ABC thinks are vital to a successful leader? Find out here
  • "Any progress, irrespective of size, is positive," says @HollyRansom. Find out why momentum matters in impact

How to achieve a positive impact is a question that echoes across governments around the world. But answering it – and navigating that often challenging process from idea to impact – is not straightforward. From country leaders to local government officials, all public servants have an important role to play.

To help fuel their journey, we present 12 Top Tips from leaders we have previously spoken to from around the world.

1. Beware the spin cycle

Julia Gillard, former Australia prime minister

“It’s not just the speed of the media cycle but also the way it has affected the way the media engages in political debate – the premium is now the number of people reading the content, so they want it to be as schlock-horror as possible to get as many readers as possible. I think this has changed the rhythm of government. Even when I was prime minister and things continued to get faster, you’d put out a major policy statement at 10am and, by midday, journalists were ringing my press secretary to see if they had another story from us. This rhythm is not the rhythm of good government.”

2. Keep calm and carry on

Lord Andrew Adonis, former UK secretary of state, 

“Virtually every week of my government life yielded a panic or crisis of some sort, and the pressure was often intense. I soon learned that the greater the crisis, the more important it is to project calm and confidence, even if you don’t feel it. And always blame yourself in public for mistakes, never blame subordinates.”

3. Manage against performance – not politics

Joel Klein, former New York City schools commissioner

“Government is now in the deliverology business. How long is the waiting time at a hospital? How long before emergency services show up at someone’s house or at a fire? All these things are quantifiable and you manage against them. Unfortunately most people in government grew up thinking they should manage against politics, and not against performance.”

4. Stay on track

Paula Acosta, former director of strategic delivery, Colombian government

“When you first introduce a policy, everyone is working towards a common goal. But when problems appear, the common tendency is to try and change the target. But once you have committed to a target then you have to stay true to it – regardless of the desire to opt for something easier to achieve. A delivery unit also has to play a dual role – helping ministries and agencies as well as calling them to account when problems emerge.”

5. Challenge convention

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, anti-apartheid campaigner and academic leader

“Wherever I have been – whether as a medical doctor or as an academic or researcher or executive – my purpose is not occupying the position but instead how I can make a real impact. This requires a willingness to take a risk of challenging convention. You are not always going to succeed, but the fact is I would rather fail trying than fail to try.”

6. Build consensus

John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado

“I think that it is important to have a clear vision, and it is also important to have key stakeholders involved in creating that vision. The more those different stakeholders with different perspectives and from different geographies are involved, the better. You also need metrics that everyone understands and can help define what success looks like.”

7. Look long-term

Rolf Alter, OECD’s director for public governance and territorial development

“Governments have a responsibility to consider the long-term consequences of their policies. How will our world look in 10, 15, or 25 years’ time? I fear this question is hardly echoing through today’s corridors of power and yet it should be. Take demographic changes. Here is a hugely important trend that doesn’t require an actuarial degree to dissect. We’re getting older. It’s a fact and while governments need to adapt their policies accordingly, not many have succeeded in doing so.”

8. Reject business as usual

Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister and UNDP administrator

“Finalising global agendas is one thing; implementing them is another. The good news is that our world has more wealth, more knowledge, and more technologies at its disposal than ever before. The challenges we face are mostly human induced. We can tackle them, but not if we keep doing business as usual and expecting different results.”

9. Develop good relationships

Jacqui Smith, former UK home secretary

“As a politician, you need to persuade the key players in the system where you are. In hindsight, possibly there were times when we didn’t take the professionals with us as much as we could have done. A bit more investment in getting them onside would have been very beneficial – you’re more successful in delivery when this happens.”

10. Engage the people affected

Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver

“A leader needs broad support for major change to occur – we can lead the charge in government but engagement is crucial. Some 35,000 residents were involved in shaping the Greenest City 2020 plan, and this has led to many different neighbourhoods and community groups having a direct stake in what we are doing. Ultimately, it’s all about people power.”

11. Momentum matters

Holly Ransom, CEO of Emergent and former chair of the G20 Youth Summit

“I’m always optimistic about the ability of people who are passionate about an issue and have an openness to collaborate to have an impact. Sometimes there can be paralysis on issues just because they are deemed to be too big, but it’s important to get started on the journey and to realise that any progress, irrespective of size, is positive. Keeping that perspective is key – if you can build momentum you can make things happen.”

12. Be authentic

Matthew Dowd, ABC chief political commentator

“To maximise your impact you need to have an inherent understanding of what it is you want to say and do, and you are able to communicate this clearly. A successful leader is authentic – not manufactured in any way. And all things being equal, it is usually the most disciplined candidate who wins – the one who makes fewest mistakes, stays focused on what they are doing, and follows the strategy laid out.”

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