Growing Leaders for the Government

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How do leaders develop?  The resources on this page discuss the role of experience in forging character and leadership skills, as well as the importance of mentors, training, and reflection.



One Person at a Time: The Leadership Genius of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was renowned for her selfless dedication to the poorest of the poor. Her approach has some surprising lessons for how government agencies should deliver services--and grow leaders for the public service.


The 3Cs of Leadership Development - Part II: Competency

Lists of competencies (like the Executive Core Competencies) are hard to remember and generally fail to acknowledge that some competencies are more important than others.  Drawing on insights from his 35 years of government service and his 13 additional years as a teacher, coach and mentor to public sector leaders, Ray Blunt provides us with an excellent overview of the most important things that effective public leaders do. 


The Successes of Leaders

The trappings of success tend to motivate many people to aspire to positions of leadership. But what if you get there and don't like all the baggage that comes with such "success?" Ray Blunt explores this issue in this column for


The Failures of Leaders

Highly successful leaders are at risk for developing hubris, which in turn can lead them to failure of varying degrees.  In this column for, 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. 


Making the Most of Developmental Assignments

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership indicates that varied and challenging assignments represent the single greatest source of leadership learning.  In this Q&A with, author Cynthia McCauley (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.


On a Mission

Public service is a high calling.  So why don't more of us have a clear picture as to what it is we have been called to do?  In his latest column for, Ray Blunt walks us through the process of developing a life mission statement. 


Growing Leaders of Character

In this Q&A with, Gene Klann of the Center for Creative Leadership discusses his recent book 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.


The Toughest Choices a Leader Must Make

New leaders have many challenges to confront, but one of their most important tasks is to make some strategic decisions about what they want to accomplish in life and how they want to spend their time.  Ray Blunt observes that these choices will be made one way or another (whether it is an active or passive process), but it is far batter to make conscious choices that will lead to a true leadership legacy.


How to Get Ahead without Tooting Your Own Horn

Most of us have worked with (or for) self-promoters who seem to put their own advancement ahead of the interests of the organization. We cringe at the idea of self-promotion, but is it really possible to advance our careers without drawing attention to our accomplishments? That is the dilemma Ray Blunt addresses in his latest column for


Two Leaders--Two Legacies

Thomas Jefferson and William Wilberforce had a great deal in common early in their lives--up to the point in their nascent political careers when they each sponsored unsuccessful legislation to abolish slavery.  Their lives then took different paths.  Wilberforce, one of Britain's most brilliant politicians of the early 19th Century, sacrificed his political ambitions to persist in a difficult--and ultimately successful-- 40-year struggle to end the slave trade and slavery in England and its colonies.  Jefferson went on to the Presidency and ended up supporting compromises that extended slavery.  Why didn't Jefferson persist in the fight against slavery?  Why did Wilberforce?  Ray Blunt argues that answer lies with their early mentors, who had a key role in shaping their respective worldviews.   


The Power of One

In this column for, Ray Blunt comments on how the increased emphasis on individualism in American society may be undermining our sense of community--and impacting leadership behaviors in unexpected ways.  Includes the inspiring story of a community in Nebraska that banded together to feed every troop train that passed through during World War II.  His arguments run counter to commonly held beliefs about one person being able to change the world. 


The Leadership Dilemma in a Democratic Society

Over a two-year period, the 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 with the kind permission of the the Public Sector Consortium.


Learning to Ride a Bike--and to Lead

Ray Blunt asserts that not enough government agencies focus on the leadership development activities with the highest impact: challenging, work-based experiences and significant interaction with senior leaders.  "Leaders learn to lead," he says, "in the classroom of experience with senior leaders." 


Best Principles Before Best Practices

In this column Ray Blunt observes that many government organizations are too quick to emulate the "Best Practices" of top-tier companies and agencies.  In many cases, what works for one organization may not be compatible with the culture--or needs--of another.  In designing a leadership development program, he asserts, it's essential to start with five basic principles as a framework.  Four of those principles require leaders to take responsibility for growing other leaders. 


Courage in the Corridors

In this column for, Ray Blunt discusses the need for courage in public organizations.  Employees in most organizations wish for--but rarely have--leaders with the courage to make tough decisions, speak the truth about performance, and speak truth to power.  Mr. Blunt describes several steps leaders can take to foster courage in their organizations.


The "3Cs" of Developing Leaders

In this column, Ray Blunt introduces the key elements of a successful leadership development program and asks us to ponder why it's so hard to find time for developing the next generation of leaders. 


Leaders Who Lead Leaders

The manner in which senior leaders lead the leaders who report to them has a tremendous impact on organizational effectiveness and innovation.  All too often, senior leaders punish their direct reports for making mistakes or try to control their areas of responsibility.  This article from the July 2005 Gallup Management Journal Outlines several key practices that senior leaders can implement to unleash the talents of their leadership team.  Reprinted by with the kind permission of the Gallup Organization.


Education for Leadership

This very thoughtful essay by Eliot A. Cohen touches on many aspects of leadership, including cross-cultural leadership, military leadership, and the "dark side of leadership."  It also includes a number of excellent stories and some recommendations for non-traditional sources of leadership insights.  Originally published in the 2002 issue of 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. 


Leadership in the Crucible

Servant leader Ray Blunt has found that one of the greatest challenges we face in government is how to develop leaders of character.  As Abraham Lincoln once observed, "if you really want to test a man's character, give him power."  In this insightful article from the Winter 2003-2004 issue of 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 with the kind permission of the publisher.


22 Ways to Develop Leadership in Staff Managers

This exceptionally useful report by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo explains how a person who works exclusively in staff jobs throughout a career is less likely to develop important leadership competencies than a person who works exclusively in line jobs.  Includes a number of specific examples of the kinds of work assignments that can have the biggest impact on a staff manager's leadership development.  Highly useful for both manager's who are interested in developing their leadership skills as well as leaders who want to develop their people.  Reproduced here with the kind consent of The Center of Creative Leadership.


Growing Leaders for the Public Service

This document combines two outstanding reports that Ray Blunt wrote for the 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.


Corps Values

The U.S. Marine Corps has one of the best leadership development programs of any organization in America.  Starting with raw recruits, they cultivate leadership skills at all levels of the organization.  This has been vital to the Marines Corps' ability to be the fast and flexible force that it is.  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.


Taking Charge

The first few months in a new leadership position are absolutely critical to a leader's success in that position, argues Michael Watkins in the April 15, 2004, issue of Government Executive Magazine.  Watkins, outlines seven common traps that leaders fall into during the transition period that can seriously undermine their chances of success.  Watkins co-authored the book, The First 90 Days in Government.


Creating Leadership for the Twenty-First Century

According to Bob Behn, top-down administrative "fixes" designed to enhance government performance never work as designed because they fail to account for the human factor.  Administrative fixes assume that organizations can work well on autopilot when, in reality, the government's programs are accomplished by people--not by systems.  So the most effective way to improve performance, he argues, is to help front-line supervisors develop the leadership skills they need to drive performance to higher levels.  Professor Behn makes several excellent suggestions for how to do this.  This excerpt from the book For the People: Can We Fix Public Service? is reprinted here by the kind permission of The Brookings Institution Press.


Reworking Intuition

This article from Science News magazine describes how three companies underwent remarkable transformations after putting employees through an intense two-day simulation designed by psychologist Lia DiBello.  On the first day, the simulation made the employees take their normal ways of doing business to their logical extreme--and causing them to fail.  The failure on day one generated a tremendous amount of learning and caused the employees to find new and better ways of doing things--much to the benefit of their organizations.  Some great insights here.


How New Managers Become Great Managers

According to Linda A. Hill, the best managers are those who are committed to lifelong self-improvement.  This article, an excerpt from Hill's book Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenge of Leadership, suggests ways for managers to identify the right kinds of development assignments for their specific situations.  One of many excellent articles available from HBS Working Knowledge.


Leading Your Boss

This article provides a taste of the kinds of leadership stories Michael Useem covers in his book Leading Up.  Includes a number of compelling examples of upward leadership--both good and bad and suggests a number of strategies that executives can implement to encourages employees to help keep their bosses on the right track.


Courageous Followers, Courageous Leaders

Subordinates have a key role to play in helping their supervisors improve their leadership skills, argues Ira Chaleff in this terrific article.  Rather than complain about the faults of our superiors, we all have a responsibility to help them leverage their strengths and address any fatal flaws they may have.  Chaleff observes that those who go to the trouble of  cultivating relationships of trust with their superiors and then offer honest feedback to them can make a huge impact on the quality of  leadership in their organizations.


It Doesn't Take a Wizard to Build a Better Boss

This superb article by Len Schlesinger describes the three most common kinds of bad bosses (he calls them the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man) and how working for each type can be a golden opportunity for highly competent subordinates.   This article was first published in the June 1996 issue of FastCompany.


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