What word is even more ubiquitous in government circles than “change”? I would argue that it’s “leadership.” As governments move through change, including downsizing and retirements that are stripping away senior managerial experience, the task of preparing new executives for leadership positions is top of mind.
In the old days, we thought leaders were born, not made. We also thought organizations worked best when orders were given from the top down and everyone just did as they were told. And we asked ourselves: what qualities do great men have? And where can I get that perfect leader who can rule the organization like an admiral on the bridge of a ship? Some of those leaders actually were admirals: think Lord Nelson…
As the world – and organizations – grew more complex, we thought that effective leadership depended on the situation, not just the qualities you were born with. We would give the specific leaders specific objectives that were suited to his or her style of management. Then he or she would manage, as required, to get the results.
Today, in even more complicated organizations and an increasingly multifaceted world of challenges, we should be thinking of a leader as a chef d’orchestre. This concept argues that leaders can’t have the answers to everything. They can’t work alone. They need to work effectively with others to get results.
This notion implies that almost anyone can be an effective leader. As a chef d’orchestre, anyone can work with others to make things better, to make an organization more effective.
And the neatest thing is, it doesn’t take a title.
Toby Fyfe is Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Government Executive magazine. He is also Vice-President of the Learning Lab at the Institute on Governance in Ottawa. He writes regularly on public management issues, both in a weekly e-newsletter for Canadian Government Executive and on Twitter at @tfyfe.