zombie management political cartoon

A recent article on Forbes.com, entitled World War E: How to Cure a Zombie Entrepreneur, discussed the dangers posed by an increasing number of zombie entrepreneurs at the helm in the private sector. The article described the criteria for diagnosis as a zombie to include: the lack of a clear picture, entrepreneur Attention Deficit Disorder, lack of conviction, lack of training, and a brand that could stand some serious improvement.

The diagnosis of “zombie” may not be confined to the private sector. Many government employees reading this list of symptoms may also see a little bit of their own situation – and come away with a similar diagnosis for their leaders as well.

Accordingly, we will describe the public sector scenario as World War G and determine how the prescribed antidotes for private sector entrepreneurs fare in the world of the government executive.


Antidote 1: “Know exactly what you want to do.”

For government leaders with layers of bureaucracy between decisions and action, this can be a frustrating prescription. Even when leaders have big picture ideas, they don’t always jive with the on-the-ground realities.

Revision for Government Leaders:

Know exactly with whom your team needs to collaborate to get things done. Act as a facilitator to the collaboration; remove roadblocks. Act with urgency. Fair or not, public employees are perceived for having a lack of passion for their work. Lead by example and identify motivators for your organization.


Antidote 2: “Focus on your vision.”

Government agencies often have legislative- or executive-prescribed visions. This does not preclude the government leader from properly interpreting the vision for his/her team. Even the best team needs reminders and assistance to keep their collective eye on the ball.

Revision for Government Leaders:

Help your team maintain focus on the vision.  Don’t minimize your influence by waiting for things to happen. Be forward-looking and act on the best information currently available.


Antidote 3: “Only start it if you’re going to love it.”

Sometimes government employees get to work on issues and endeavors about which they feel passionate. Other times, however, “love” is not an option in a compliance-based culture. Therefore, a government leader has a different mission; even when activities are inherently rote, repetitive, or boring, employee motivation must be maintained.

Revision for Government Leaders:

Find ways for your team members to love their work. Change up the pace of the organization and remove any perceived monotony that can lead to mental resignation. Think of new ways to engage staff and create a culture in which your team is continually solution oriented. Instilling this cultural element provides more motivation and activity.


Antidote 4: “Don’t cheat your brand or it will cost you.” 

Government and “branding” may seem like strange bedfellows. Government employees may not even feel they have a brand (isn’t a brand something you sell?). But this is not the whole story – a brand is a perception and feeling that accompanies any entity. Government agencies are designed to serve the public, and if the public believes government is ineffective, appropriate engagement with the public customer is not occurring. It is the job of the leader to overcome this obstacle and foster the desired perception and feelings continuously.

Revision for Government Leaders:

Find ways for your team to recognize and promulgate your brand in all that it does. Use best practices to measure your brand perception. How do your customers (both internal and external) and employees perceive you, and what improvements would they like to see? Even small changes in the way you interact with the audience of your brand can greatly improve brand perception.

Rehabilitating the Zombie

Any government leader can potentially fall into the zombie mentality; and too many stay there. The antidotes above, as revised for government leaders, can go a long way to saving many government workers from a mundane work-life.

Proper government branding (especially the integrated and complementary branding actions of individual government leaders) is an important strategic tool that is often out of focus. As we fight World War G, sometimes the most important weapon leaders have is strategic introspection. Those who are serious about government leadership need an awareness of their own brand and its importance so that they can effectively live the brand in all that they do.



Contributing writers for this article include Raoul Davis, a partner at Ascendant Group , specializing in brand execution for CEOs and executives by strategically increasing their visibility, audience connection, and industry leadership status through a proprietary branding model.

The opinions in this piece are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the views of COE, Ascendant Group, or innovategov.org.

You may view the original version of this article at www.innovategov.org.