Web management in the government has been a grassroots effort from the beginning. That mantra, “proceed until apprehended,” came legitimately. We were doing things our bosses had no knowledge of. We stepped up and took our chances, doing our best to make right guesses so no one would stop us. At first, our bosses left us alone because they really didn’t know how many people were out there seeing our websites. Eventually – and I believe this is true today – they had to rely on us because we knew more about web management than they did. You know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. But it is such a foreign concept in government where control is the culture. And not every boss is comfortable with the risks involved.
I’ve been reading the notes from the recent Government Web Managers Conference – oh, I am so happy for and proud of my former colleagues! – and two things jumped out at me.
- Though some web managers are still stymied by their bosses – and wish there would be top level endorsement/push, telling their bosses to listen to them and/or get onboard – most understand they have to take the lead and are willing to try, risk, proselytize, be fearless, and act on their passion to serve.
- Top experts, both within and outside of government, were consistent in their advice: try it; risk failure; do the right thing to serve the public. Don’t wait to be told what to do – just do it. Figure it out. Make it happen. Oh, I do so love this way of thinking! But it takes enormous courage for a government employee to act on this advice. This is NOT the way government works, normally.
One colleague recently told me that, indeed, he did proceed…but he was apprehended. That does happen, and I am not diminishing the impact of those roadblocks nor the honest fear they generate. Government lawyers can be formidable. But they also can be reasonable. Government bosses can make bad decisions – but they also can change their minds if they are convinced that it’s the right thing. Sometimes you have to table an idea and wait for more favorable conditions to try it again. Sometimes you have to wait out a boss or some other obstacle. But don’t give up. Look for the opportunities. Muster your courage. And squeak! You might be surprised who will show up with that can of oil.
Government web managers, as a whole, have enjoyed way more success than they have suffered setbacks, in large part due to their courage. That the Federal Web Managers Council published two White Papers and got those in the hands of the new administration is testimony to their courage. That this Government Web Managers Conference took place, with high level administration officials from the White House, OMB, and GSA wanting to be there, urging web managers to be innovative, respecting your enthusiasm and ideas, and applauding your moxie…oh my gosh…that’s a huge tribute to your courage.
So my message is this: if there ever was a time in government web management to step it up, it’s now. You have more high level support than you’ve ever had. If you hit that wall, start looking for the way around it. If you are certain that something is the right thing to do, find a way to do it. If you get scared or beat down or over-ruled, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” Use the web manager community to help you. Don’t let fear and isolation paralyze you and prevent you from moving forward. Your colleagues are a huge resource. Collaborate. Partner. Work together.
If you take risks to do the right thing, others will, too. So be brave. Show your courage. We citizens are counting on you to stand up for what’s right for us.
“A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position” - John Maxwell
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” - John Wooden