Leadership is a critical skill in government organisations.  It drives improvement, flexibility and allows the organisation to adapt to change occurring internally and externally.

A constructive approach to leadership starts with the premise of care and candour. This is the ability to have the honest conversations in a caring and constructive manner in a way that delivers outcomes.  Care or honesty is the starting point and the missing ingredient in a lot of leadership development programs.

In reality, what I often see is not the honesty, the fearlessness and robust positive conflict government organisations need to have.  Rather, I see a lot of smile and wave leadership that people perceive as care.

So what do we mean by smile and wave leadership?  For those that have children and have seen the movie Madagascar, visualise the penguins which I believe make the movie!  The leader penguin is in the zoo and says to his troops when visitors come “smile and wave boys, smile and wave”!   All the penguins fake a smile, wave profusely and put on a show.

Leaders that struggle with care and candour and embracing positive conflict tend to adopt the smile and wave leadership approach.  Saying hello to the troops, waving and genuinely putting on an inauthentic front to replace the fact that they cannot have the challenging conversations.

Have a look around at your leaders in your organisation and ask the following questions:

  • do they care about their staff?
  • do they care enough to have the honest conversations?
  • do they embrace and welcome positive conflict?
  • are they authentic in their approach to constructive leadership?


Remove the smile and wave leadership from your organisation.  Your staff see through it and deserve better.