Systems thinking is an essential leadership practice often not taught practiced or included in the education of public leaders. The complexity of the public sector combined with the number of people who depend on public leadership makes it essential for us to develop skilled confident systems thinkers. Ideally, public sector workplaces would be run by leaders who understand how to address system delays, how to manage intended and unintended consequences, and where the point of leverage is in a system. Our leaders must also educate the citizens who depend on them to think systemically as well. This field of learning is critical for our policy makers and legislators who can find themselves setting policy or making decisions that have unanticipated consequences that are both unexpected and costly.
The response to the current public health crisis has fallen heavily on local Municipal and School Department Leaders. Their ability to implement and design communication systems which build trust and keep people safe in this constantly changing landscape has been nothing short of heroic.
In their 2011 report the Carnegie Corporation discussed public schools as the guardians of democracy. As students go back into the classrooms this fall, many for the first time in 18 months, our work with the public-school leaders is at the forefront of our minds. Despite a tumultuous election cycle and a focus on public sector issues in the media such as public health, the federal budget and policing, few people have asked how are schools doing civically? Are they adequately developing students who will be our next voters and civic leaders? Will they be prepared or even interested in participating in our democracy and facing the challenges ahead?
“Over the past 12 years, U.S. airlines have accomplished an astonishing feat: carrying more than eight billion passengers without a fatal crash. Such numbers were once unimaginable, even among the most optimistic safety experts.”
Wall Street Journal article, 4/16/21 The Airline Safety Revolution by Andy Pasztor.
This WSJ article is a tutorial in organizational learning and the practices of skilled public leaders who aspired to make the US airline industry among the safest in the world. The hard leadership work in this kind of change process is always the same, facing the current reality openly and honestly, creating the shared vision for change, engaging the essential partners, staying focused and sustaining the focus and discipline over time. The good news for all of us they did it.
Independence Day is an opportunity to reflect on the courage, compassion and resiliency that so many public servants exhibited over the last year. Many of you have been working over-time in stressful situations for more than a year. Our wish for all of you this summer is the time to restore your energy and re-connect with family and friends.
Since last July we have shared a number or relevant topics on our website. Feel free to go back and read all the monthly updates and take advantage of some of the recommended books and videos as well.
Click the links to view the following topics from 2020:
- Reactive Technology Choices and Unintended Consequences
- Back to School: Innovation and Leadership in Education
- Embracing the Current Reality: A Leadership Key to Achieving Greatness
- Resiliency Practices: The Essential Skill Set for All Public Leaders
Click the links to view the following topics from 2021:
- Public Services Affect Almost Everything In Our Lives
- Facilitative Leadership Practices: The Fundamental Skill Set for Leadership Transitions
- Earth Day 2021, Restore Our Earth
A version of this article was also published by Thrive Global.
Public Service Recognition Week is dedicated to honoring our public servants. This past year has been a time that we all truly depended upon public leadership during a prolonged crisis. During May and June, we want to encourage everyone to say thank you to the thousands of public servants in cities, towns, schools, states and the federal government who have worked tirelessly to implement communication, testing, tracking and vaccination systems under stressful circumstances while doing their pre-pandemic jobs.
The Public Sector Consortium is a national non-profit which is dedicated to reinventing the practice of public leadership through “sustainable leadership practices”. These leadership skills and practices can be learned and applied by all public leaders. There is no better time to turn our attention to sustainability than April when we celebrate Earth Day on April 22. This year’s theme Restore Our Earth focuses on ways that we can green our planet.
You can learn more about this year’s Earth Day and activities here. If you have 5 minutes of time this video explains the history of Earth Day and could easily be used to start a staff meeting or in a classroom to remind people in your state, city or schools about the importance of Earth Day.
There is no more challenging branch of government to lead and manage than the US executive branch with over 2.2 million Americans in civil service, another 2 million working with the Department of Defense, and 15 executive departments. It is a large complex ship to steer (OPM and OMB Federal Workforce Statistics). The challenge is even more daunting during periods of leadership transition with the political appointees or elected officials learning their new jobs and attempting to build partnerships with the existing civil servants. This particular transition is far more complex with the continuation of the pandemic and subsequent humanitarian and economic challenges.
We often only think about government when we pay taxes, attend jury duty, vote in an election or watch news about a new political conflict or something that has gone wrong. Government services are so much a part of our lives they often go unnoticed or unappreciated until they are not there. Let’s take a look at a day in the life of most Americans.
We wake up in our residence and we live where we do because of zoning laws that local governments establish for where residential and commercial buildings can be built and receive services (water, roads, trash removal, electricity, sewer and gas etc.). Every act that we take throughout the day using; clean water to drink and bathe, electricity, eating the food in our cabinets, wearing clothes, using soap, riding in the car, train, ferries or bus, using the roads and sidewalks, are the result of laws which ensure the safety of the product or resource. Additionally, we have laws which protect the safety and well-being of the citizens who work in the production and delivery of these resources and products we depend on.
The Public Sector Consortium is working on building the first of six competency models (Public Health and Wellness in Municipal Government) as well as focusing on the resiliency skills needed by public leaders to successfully pivot in a rapidly changing landscape.
More than ever resiliency skills and practices are an essential skill set for all professions but most importantly for Public Leaders. Unlike any other profession public leadership competencies are what we all depend on to thrive. It is important to note that resiliency can mean something very different in tenured work- places like government and educational institutions that were designed and structured for continuity and stability. This differs significantly from the private sector where innovation and new products are often the source of their revenues.