Articles About Leadership in Government
Bringing about organizational transformation as a government manager may seem like an impossible task at times, but some leaders have succeeded spectacularly. The articles and links on this page were carefully selected for their direct relevance to leadership and management in the public sector. Some are actual success stories, while others outline principles of leadership--or leadership development--that have worked exceptionally well in the government context.
hubris, which in turn can lead them to failure of varying degrees. In this column for GovLeaders.org, Ray Blunt discusses this cycle, how it happens, and how was can use reflection, self-awareness and mentors to maintain our humility and prevent hubris from taking hold.
Developmental Assignments: Creating Learning Experiences without Changing Jobs) discusses several different types of developmental assignments, how to get them, and how to ensure they are truly developmental.
how to decide." The process chosen by the leader can have a huge impact on both the quality of the decision and the organization's buy-in when implementing it. Dr. Roberto dispels several myths about how decisions are made in organizations (e.g. "Myth 4: Managers Analyze and Then Decide") and provides some great insights into how leadership styles, cognitive biases and organizational defensive routines can get in the way of effective decision making. This article was published as Chapter 1 of Roberto's terrific book Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer. Reproduced by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of Pearson Education.
GovernmentExecutive.com outlines some of the creative employee recognition strategies that Federal managers have used with great success.
also doing all those other things leaders are supposed to do, such as establish a clear purpose, develop their people, provide recognition for great performance, and obtain adequate resources. At the end of the day, goals are unlikely to be met if employees don't have the tools, knowledge and skills they need to do the work.
Building Character: Strengthening the Heart of Good Leadership. He discusses the importance of stretch assignments and job rotations, and suggests how government agencies can train leaders of character despite shrinking budgets. He also asserts that setting a positive leadership example is "the highest form of leadership" because people tend to imitate the behaviors they see in their leaders.
Public Sector Consortium (at the time known as the High Performing Federal Agencies Community of Practice) developed a series of systems maps that illustrate the kinds of leadership dilemmas faced by public managers in a democratic society. For example, the need to show short-term results for a new administration tends to reward command-and-control leadership styles and complicates efforts to define a clear mission for an agency. The Consortium developed the maps to help leaders and the professionals who design leadership development programs to engage in dialogue about the systems and structures in their own organizations. The intention is to create opportunities for organizations to create the structures and systems that support quality public sector leadership. The Public Sector Consortium also offers training courses. Contact Georgie Bishop for more information. Article used by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of the the Public Sector Consortium.
The Public Manager, Blunt describes three "character courses," activities that leaders and aspiring leaders can pursue to cultivate their leadership--and their character at the same time. These include reflective work that results in a guiding life purpose or mission; learning from the life and experiences of mentors; and being part of a community of practice that learns together and holds each other accountable. Highly recommended. Posted by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of the publisher.
Grassroots Leadership." Abrashoff has gone on to publish two Best Sellers, It's Your Ship and Get Your Ship Together, both of which are great reads with many useful insights. In October 2004, ICMA's PM Magazine published the article "Build Up Your People," which is excerpted from Abrashoff's first book. As with Abrashoff's other books and articles, this one is inspiring because it includes a rare combination of 1) compelling stories; 2) clearly measurable results, and 3) actionable tips.
Nautilus—an amazing feat of engineering given that it involved the development of the first use of a controlled nuclear reactor. The Nautilus not only transformed submarine warfare, but also laid the groundwork for a whole fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers and cruisers (which was also built by Rickover and his team). This article is an excerpt from a speech Rickover delivered at Columbia University in 1982, in which he succinctly outlined his management philosophy. His determination, clarity of purpose, emphasis on developing his people, high standards, and willingness to give his people ownership of their work had to have been very inspiring to his people. He was known to take some of his strengths to extremes, however, which no doubt led to his reputation in some circles as being difficult to work for.
Performance Leadership [PDF]In this terrific report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Bob Behn outlines 11 leadership practices that public managers can use as a framework for improving performance. Superbly organized and full of great examples, this paper provides many insightful--and actionable--suggestions. Even the end notes are a good read.
Government Executive Magazine describes two key events that defined Amb. Bushnell as a great leader. The first was her courageous--and rather solitary--effort to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Second was her leadership as U.S. Ambassador to Nairobi, which was crucial to holding together the Embassy staff in the aftermath of the 1998 bombing by Al Qaeda.
Managing the Skies magazine outlines strategies that managers can use to work towards long-term goals while dealing with the press of day-to-day operational issues. Posted by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of the authors and Managing the Skies.Private Sector Council, delivered this inspiring speech on leadership before the National Capital Area Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration on April 28, 2004. Includes numerous quotes, stories, and astute observations from his decades of observing senior leaders in the public and private sectors.
SAISPHERE, this article was reprinted here with the kind permission of the author and the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.
Rules & Tools for Leaders. This article was originally published in the January 1997 issue of the Marine Corp Gazette. Reprinted by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of the author.
Marine Corps Gazette. Reprinted by GovLeaders.org with the kind permission of the author. Make sure to check out "Learning to Lead, Part I" as well.
Government Executive Magazine. Watkins, outlines seven common traps that leaders fall into during the transition period that can seriously undermine their chances of success. See also Watkins' book The First 90 Days in Government.
Innovation in American Government (Brookings Institution Press, 1997). The author served as Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice in New York City from 1983 to 1990 and was credited for turning what had been a fairly troubled agency into an innovative and highly effective organization. In this article, Schall provides a superb overview of the strategies she used with respect to frontline workers and organizational structure to bring about profound change. Contains a great deal of useful--and actionable--wisdom. Reprinted by the kind permission of the Brookings Institution Press.
State and Local Government Review.
IBM Center for the Business of Government. In "Leaders Growing Leaders: Preparing the Next Generation of Public Service Executives," Blunt describes the vital role that senior government executives must play in developing the next generation of leaders. He includes vivid case studies of three senior executives who successfully cultivated the leadership skills of their people by being good exemplars, mentors, coaches and teachers. In "Organizations Growing Leaders: Best Practices and Principles in the Public Service," Blunt profiles five U.S. Government agencies that have implemented successful leadership development programs. He explains what the successful programs have in common--and what that means for agencies that aspire to growing their own leaders.
Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug, or How to Survive Public Service. Ashworth gave this insightful and entertaining speech about leading up in the public sector as the opening address at the October 2001 Central Texas ASPA Conference. Includes several great anecdotes from his book.
Wharton Leadership Digest. Dr. Elachi describes how NASA grooms employees for the kinds of high-stress leadership roles required for managing space missions. Provides some clues as to why NASA regularly ranks highly in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government study.
1927-2003) took command of the US Air Force's Tactical Air Command (TAC) in 1978, the organization was in dire straits. Combat readiness was at an all-time low, maintenance was sloppy, and accident rates were high. The Air Force as a whole was being described by some observers as "ready for the last war" (as opposed to being ready for the next one). In his six years in charge of TAC, Gen. Creech orchestrated an extraordinary turnaround that ultimately swept through the rest of the Air Force and many other parts of the U.S. Armed Forces. Many people credit Creech's leadership, management reforms, and tactical innovations for the USAF's dominance in the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This is one of the most compelling--and useful--stories of organizational transformation you will find anywhere. Originally published by INC. Magazine in January 1987.
For the People: Can We Fix Public Service? is reprinted here by the kind permission of The Brookings Institution Press.
Gallup Management Journal, reproduced by GovLeaders.org with permission.
The Public Manager. Blunt describes how stories can help executives pass leadership lessons on to the next generation in a vivid way. Includes tips on how to identify one's own leadership stories.
Genius Into Gruel [PDF]In this excerpt from her book Territorial Games, Annette Simmons explains how turf battles at work originate from our territorial instincts. Instead of fighting over land, however, we now vie for information, relationships, and authority. These tendencies are a tremendous obstacle to cooperation in bureaucracies, and need to be curbed when they come into conflict with the best interests of the organization as a whole--as they so often do. Take the author's self-awareness survey to determine which territorial games you tend to play (whether consciously or unconsciously).
IBM Endowment for the Business of Government.
Gallup Management Journal describes how Marcella Banks, Assistant Administrator of the Federal Technology Service (FTS) of GSA's Greater Southwest Region, transformed FTS into a truly world-class organization. Banks, already a gifted leader, made excellent use of Gallup's Q12 survey data (which GSA uses widely) to take her organization to a whole new level. The results they achieved are quite impressive.
Inc. magazine first published this excellent article by David Freedman about how the Marines develop leaders in April 1998. For many more good articles on management, see Inc. magazine's on-line section on Leadership and Managing.
Tipping Point Leadership" in the April 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
FastCompany article about D. Michael Abrashoff, the former Captain of the USS Benfold, who turned the navy's 200 year-old management style on its head while transforming his ship into the best ship in the Pacific Fleet. This article should be required reading for all government managers.
Management Review. It became an instant classic and has been widely disseminated (including as a well-known PowerPoint presentation). The response to this article prompted Harari to write the book Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, in which he significantly expands on the 18 principles outlined in this article.
Government Executive Magazine discussing several managers who led dramatic turn-arounds in their organizations and made them great places to work. Make sure to click on the article's "Related Links" side-bar, as they are all part of the same cover story.
Foreign Service Journal, argues that mid-level managers at the State Department are vital to the success of Secretary of State Colin Powell's reform efforts. It outlines seven simple management principles that managers can use to help make the State Department a more effective organization--and a better place to work. Reproduced by GovLeaders.org with the consent of the American Foreign Service Association.
More Success Stories about Leadership in Government
- Creating a Culture of
Innovation: 10 Lessons from America's Best Run City
(IBM Endowment for the Business of Government)
- Dignity Factor (Government Executive Magazine, February 2003)
- Where There's Smoke It Helps to Have a Smoke Jumper (FastCompany, April 2000)