Public service today is a crowded intersection – no public sector reform without capacity development, no transformation of networked government without collaborative leadership, no innovation without stewardship by strategic leaders. These dilemmas are exacerbated by the paradox of politics, where nothing is what it seems and perception is reality. The environment can be daunting for newly-appointed or first-time managers to sort through and know what to do next.
Public leaders want strategic managers in their organizations. Strategic leadership requires experience and judgement. Rapid change, complex issues, and generational turnover raise expectations of accelerated knowledge gathering. Fledgling public managers are expected to grow up quickly, learning in five years what used to take twenty. There is no manual or formula for acquiring the insights needed.
Government requires strategic managers who can lead programs that cost less, deliver better service, and add public value. Strategic public managers:
• Benchmark international good practices that are transferable to local governance and leadership;
• Advocate a whole-of-government view that integrates the principles of good governance;
• Champion an outside-in view that values citizen engagement, partnership, and innovative service delivery;
• Cultivate political acuity and business acumen together in relations with public leaders;
• Network government to develop public service capacity, institutionalize change, and account for results;
• Identify and resolve manageable problems that impair organizational change and outcomes;
• Embrace self-awareness as a comparative advantage for effective performance and career advancement; and
• Seek advice and experiential learning that foster teamwork and leadership development.
In short, strategic public managers manage up, down, across, and out – every which way. They are part teacher and part spirit worker. They enable communities of interest and practice to flourish.
Henry Mintzberg prophesies a new brand of leadership exercising strategic competencies: “We need balanced dedicated people who practice a style of managing that can be called ‘engaging’. These people believe that their purpose is to leave behind stronger organizations.”
Many are called, but few are chosen.
NEXT MONTH: Competency frameworks