September 29, 2005

Raise the Leadership Bar

I have never worked in Government. I've worked with Government but have not been on a public sector payroll. But from where I am in the corporate sector I think I have some insight to offer to the public service sector. Insight via an appreciation of leadership.

So when I read about leadership in government I get concerned. Actually, deeply concerned. Paul Krugman a columnist at the New York Times wrote an article called "Find the Brownie". In it he proposed a new trivia game:

"The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections. It's inspired by President Bush's praise, four days after Katrina hit, for the hapless Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job". "

With this as inspiration someone launched a website to compile "Brownies" - Find the Brownie. Brownies exist in the corporate world too. Mini Microsoft and its readers blog about their versions within their own organizations

More and more leadership gaps in the non-elected ranks of government are surfacing worldwide. For example, I live in Toronto. Toronto is Canada's largest city with 2.5 million citizens. We have a new mayor that came in office with a "new broom" after a corruption scandal. The Mayor moved quickly to reinvent City Government and demonstrated great leadership. A case study of great public sector leadership...well almost. Cronyisn scandal buffets City Hall appeared in today's Globe and Mail newspaper.

This is not about the Mayor (he's above reproach). Its about allegations concerning people in senior non-elected leadership positions in city government. This is scary. "Brownies" are everywhere, in every administration, even clean ones.

So what's the fix? Can the Corporate Sector do leadership knowledge transfer to the Government Sector?

I think it can. Closer scrutiny of companies and their leadership teams has been mandated in the Post-Enron era. But Government itself hasn't kept up and fundamentally hasn't evolved since the 1980's. It's not enough that we have the power as citizens every few years to vote administrations out of office. There has to be real, visible change and innovation in Public Service. The "bar was raised" in the corporate sector. We need to do the same with Government.

Update - the Toronto Mayor deals with allegations of cronyism by firing those involved

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