Be true to yourself, and be selfish: Lloyd’s advice to graduates

By The Mandarin

Thursday March 3, 2016

Be true to yourself, Australia’s public service commissioner has told incoming graduates. And be selfish about what you want from your career.

John Lloyd (pictured) addressed the 2016 intake of Australian public service graduates in a speech in the Great Hall of Parliament House yesterday, reminding them of the “enormous opportunity” available in government ranks but warning of the “high standards” expected.

“If you listen, learn and apply yourself you can have an excellent career,” Lloyd, appointed by then-prime minister Tony Abbott to the public sector post in December, said.

“You are joining an APS that is staffed by many talented people. Australians have come to expect high standards from its APS. [There are many] examples of APS employees stepping up and doing outstanding work in difficult circumstances. But the work is valued every day in many aspects of the affairs of the nation.”

Lloyd offered 10 tips in managing a successful APS career, including to learn from colleagues (and mistakes), develop a broad interest in government affairs (and maintain outside interests), be ready for change and think creatively. He says even graduates should “challenge the system”.

Budding bureaucrats should be true to themselves, he said: “Successful people and leaders come in many forms with characteristics ranging from the loud to the quiet and many qualities in between.” And be “ruthless” about the choices they make in promotion and managing life balance.

Lloyd has served at senior levels of the Victorian and federal public service, and on the Industrial Relations Commission and Building and Construction Commission.

John Lloyd’s tips for managing a successful career

  1. Watch people around you who are successful and apply their approach.
  2. Develop a broad interest in government and the area you are working in. A policy developed in the context of a particular area or event will generally have impacts on other areas of government. A well-developed capacity to understand the linkage of policy and decisions across government will prove valuable. Make sure you are well read not just about your area of expertise but about government more generally. It does no harm to watch question time and take an interest in the issues Parliament is engaged in.
  3. Be true to yourself. There is no magic personality trait that guarantees success in government. You have to be astute, have some resilience and be keen to learn new things. But be true to your inner self. Successful people and leaders come in many forms with characteristics ranging from the loud to the quiet and many qualities in between.
  4. Take opportunities to broaden your skills and gain new perspectives. Both in or outside the APS.
  5. I encourage people to maintain or develop outside interests and activities. This could be in sport, the community or volunteering. This helps you to be more rounded and better leaders. If you are based in the ACT it can be good if your interests sometimes take you out of the fishbowl that is Canberra.
  6. Now we all make mistakes as we go about our work or wish we had done things differently. It is important you learn from them. If you do that, don’t dwell on them, but move on. I am always impressed by staff that can see how they can improve and work to that end. So often, I have seen something that goes wrong become a turning point in a person’s career and performance. At the same time, you don’t want errors to be too frequent or monumental. Talking to your colleagues and supervisors can be a way to avoid this.
  7. Think creatively, challenge the system. There can be a temptation to fit it, but we value the different approach you bring.
  8. It is important that you are careful when using social media. This is addressed in the APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice guide. It says: “It may be clear that posts made anonymously have been made by existing APS employees given their content. Each such post erodes the level of confidence that the APS is serving the elected government faithfully and is committed to delivering government services.”
  9. I encourage you to embrace change when it comes along. To relish the challenges that your career presents. Enjoy engagement in the big issues of the day. Successful organisations are attuned to change. You will see change throughout your career.
  10. Finally, I recommend that you be selfish and ruthless about your career and the choices you make. You have to balance career and personal and family issues when making career choices. Never be too weighed down by a sense of allegiance to stay where you are. If a better opportunity arises then I suggest you grasp it if it suits you. I, like most supervisors, support staff who embrace challenges and opportunities.

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