Editor's Word
July 20, 2016

Mastering Horizontal Leadership

One can’t write about public administration in the spring of 2016 without mentioning the heroic work done by public servants in combatting the forest fires in Alberta or in looking after the thousands of victims of this terrifying tragedy. It takes guts and dogged persistence to meet the challenges of natural disasters like this, from the very top to the bottom echelons of the organizations involved. There were dozens of them implicated in battling the flames and serving the people. A lot of the managing was top-down—military in many respects, but what was impressive, from my perch anyway, was the coordination of effort between the local, provincial and federal governments, and between the many community agencies and volunteers and the governments. The top-down leadership is expected; but the leadership exhibited in getting multiple organizations to work together is special. It takes unique forms of leadership to get things done “horizontally.”

The community has long talked about managing “horizontal” organizations—flattened hierarchies with relatively few middle managers. The reality is that unless the department is very small, these experiments have failed. What has survived is another reality: the rise of networked organizations that involve employees dispersed across a country, province, territory or even a city. It often also means the leadership of networks: more or less cohesive webs of organizations that are somehow linked by a common purpose, either in formulating policy or in delivering programs.

In this issue, Deirdre Moore reignites the interest in what it takes to manage a networked organization. She observes that this is hardly a public bureaucracy issue. In fact, she documents how the private sector has been investing heavily in developing its leadership’s capacity to manage from afar. She also comes to the conclusion that these efforts take time and effort. Her article sounds an alarm, and CGE will be covering this issue more closely in future issues.

Two other pieces cover aspects of leading through networks. My interview with Ms. Maureen O’Neil, the President of the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, reveals how her organization is leading by cross-pollinating ideas—getting proven practices developed locally to be adopted elsewhere. It’s not easy work! In his piece on the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Managing Editor Nestor Arrellano reports on another dimension of leading through networks to discover ideas. PHAC last year went to the airwaves to literally get partners-in-innovation through a national contest. It crowdsourced ideas—a new practice that all public sector leaders must include in their policy and program delivery arsenals. Peter Jones’s piece on the GovLab in Alberta points to other innovative practices in reaching out to get new ideas.

Speaking of cross-pollinating, Christopher Lau’s piece on new incentives to lure international companies to establish plants in Canada is a necessary read. We all know the competition is brutal out there in the globalized economy, but his insights show that the task of attracting international capital is not the work of just one department. Whether it is education or social services, economic or cultural management, all parts of government must be hands-on-deck on this file.

Please take note that CGE will be taking its summer break with this issue. Look for the September issue sometime in the last half of August. Happy reading until then.

To view this issue, see below or to access our past issues, please sign up for a free account.

About this author

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Patrice Dutil

Patrice Dutil is the Editor of Canadian Government Executive. He is a Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto. He has worked as a government policy advisor, a non-profit organization executive, a television producer and was the founder, and editor for five years, of The Literary Review of Canada. His upcoming publications include a book on the administrative practices of Canadian prime ministers Macdonald, Laurier and Borden, and a study of the 1917 election in Canada.

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