Henry Mintzberg observed in a 2007 CGE interview that management and leadership are two sides of the same coin. â€œNobody wants a manager who is not a leader, but nobody should want a leader who is not a manager. This idea that you can sit up on high and do the big stuff and everybody runs around doing the grunt work is very destructive. Instead, we need to build communities.â€
Effective public leaders offer a kind of non-partisan pastoral care for those who champion reform against the odds. They help create a sense of community among public servants on the front lines, at the centre of government, and in the middle of the system. They are “sky pilots” who network government to develop capacity, institutionalize change, and account for results.
Questions arise about whether leaders are more or less successful depending upon their place, position and role. How do different leadership scenarios explain the results achieved in the setting and context? Does where you stand depend upon where you sit?
Sampling of the 2011-12 CAPAM International Innovations Awards reveals some telling points:
- Most innovations are rooted in improving service delivery to citizens rather than in politics, policy or cost-savings.
- More than 80% of innovations are championed by teams led by senior or middle managers, followed by freelance field operatives and politicians.
- More than 80% of innovations deploy some form of partnership, whether intragovernmental, intergovernmental, public-private or public-private-people.
- The average pre-award development cycle of innovations is less than three years, limiting independent assessment and reporting of results.
- Most innovations sponsored by national governments in rural and remote regions are delivered by line ministries and agencies.
The literature confirms the importance of the existence of networks in innovation. Today, “collaborative leadership” prevails in thought and practice over the “transformational leadership” of the New Public Management era. However, the international development community discounts leadership in its calculus, claiming that public service behaviour cannot be predicted.
There is a research gap in differentiating the roles and impact of those who lead at the front, centre and middle. Meanwhile, senior executives who foster the climate for change and management teams that do most of the in-house missionary work are renewing the public service from the middle out.
John Wilkins was a Commonwealth diplomat and a career public servant in Canada. He is Executive in Residence with the Public Management Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).