The issue of leadership continues to swirl around us. The policy environment is complex, there are multiple accountabilities, decisions to be made despite “unknown unknowns,” and the only constant is change.
Exhortations to leadership are found in volumes that line the shelves of bookstores; articles on leadership fill the business sections of newspapers. “Leadership” brings up 124 million entries on Google.
Why more focus on leadership? Why now?
IPAC’s surveys of deputy ministers, CAOs of major cities and IPAC members reveal a deep interest in leadership across Canada at every order of government. Now more than ever, senior executives who can deal with the complexity of contemporary problems are urgently needed.
But that is not enough. For public sector leaders, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times” as they face challenges as never before.
Leaders of public organizations must hire the civil service of tomorrow, anticipating requirements and adding people with the requisite technical, managerial and linguistic skills. They need baby boomer staff who are now retiring to transfer their knowledge and lessons to tomorrow’s leaders.
At the same time, internal conflicts permeate many government policies and programs: how will public sector leaders meet different targets and satisfy so many stakeholders? How will they “pick a lane”?
Our public sector leaders must also balance “the art of the possible,” as Bismarck called politics, with what governments need to do every day: deliver programs and services for citizens. Governments are dealing with deficits through spending restraint or tax increases. Politically the choice is clear: there will be program reviews, cuts and freezes that will require highly skilled leaders to design and implement them. Public sector leaders must be ever mindful of political mandates, party platforms and constituents’ sensitivities.
When the leadership debate wades out of the weeds on to dry land, it focuses on change. Change is at the core of vibrant, responsive, high performing organizations. Yet, change is extremely hard to live through: just ask the people who rethink their organizations, missions, resources and raison d