Thursday, December 18, 2008

Re-Inventing the Practice of Leadership for the Public Good

We are once again in a time of great leadership transition and I find myself hopeful about the possibility of bringing focus to the importance of public leadership as a profession. I believe that this election cycle’s results are indicative of a world hungry for a new model of public leadership, one that embodies new competencies and skills that are appropriate for the challenges we face and for the global stage on which all leaders are now measured. Our president-elect and his team have modeled many of these new practices during the long campaign process as well as during the post-campaign work of selecting the new cabinet.

Given the global capacity to see and hear each other 24/7 I believe we are more conscious than ever of the terrible price citizens throughout the world pay for our laissez-faire approach to the practice of leadership. Unlike other professions -- medicine, law and accounting spring to mind -- as a society we have never agreed on the conventions for measuring successful performance as a public leader. Never in my lifetime has it been more obvious how heavily we depend on the performance of public leaders (not only those active in our country), in ways that affect every aspect of our lives.

Over a thirty-year career as a Federal employee and manager my job required me to support the development of public leaders. As the current Director of the Public Sector Consortium ( it has become a full-time avocation.

My hope is that the Consortium can help facilitate a shift in citizen focus and consciousness about what is really required of public leaders in terms of competency and performance. With this shift we might bring about the commitment to select and develop people who are prepared to take on the responsibility of public service. We would like to see leaders skilled in Systems Thinking, Facilitative Leadership, Sustainable Leadership Practices, and Organizational Learning (to name just a few) before they take on the mantle of public leadership.

I believe that the purpose of healthy governance systems is to protect and sustain the commons for the citizens who depend on shared resources. Public leaders implement the purpose of governance and their work requires foresight and the courage to intervene on the tragedy of the commons when necessary. This is what it means to serve the public good. Every country and culture has a different definition of their commons, and consequently our governance systems serve different purposes. This is at the heart of our dislocation within many of the global issues we are currently facing. Examples of the commons in this country might be access to health care, access to clean air, access to education, access to safe food sources, and personal safety.

Our collective inadequacy to articulate what is required to do the most important work in our society has cost all of us a great deal.

I have great hope that together we can agree on what is required in this newly defined profession of public leadership; together we can articulate and recognize the essential practices involved. Together we can invest in developing the competencies before people enter the profession of public service and invest in those who are already hard at work and in need of new skills. We can create measures of successful performance, and implement these performance measures when we promote or elect. Together we can identify the naturals within our society and nurture them early for this noblest of professions.

Georgie Bishop,
Director, The Public Sector Consortium

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