< Growing Leaders
Growing Public Service Leaders
By Ray Blunt
Best Principles Before Best Practices
There is a game being played somewhere right now within almost
every government organization. The game is called ‘In Search of Best Practices’
and it is played something like this: “We’re about to launch a major change
(like putting in a leadership development program). Before we do, let’s
benchmark the best organizations around to find out what they do, and
especially, let’s see what other government organizations are doing. After all,
we don’t want to reinvent the wheel now, do we?”
So the change team dutifully goes out, does their research, makes some site
visits, documents their findings, and then prepares a menu of best practices
from which a program is built. The game proceeds by briefings up the line which
are bolstered by citations from the Who’s Who of Best Practices—prominent
companies in the news, selections from the 100 Best Companies to Work For, other
Federal agencies, etc. The game is won when the program, designed around the
Best Practices, is given the go ahead. So what’s the problem? It may possibly be
declaring a premature end to the game by failing to realize that ‘best’ is
simply a local term, not a universal one, and that there may be better and prior
wisdom that is being ignored in the bargain. It’s something worth discussing.
The victory lap cannot realistically be taken until the program design actually
produces the results that people intended because somewhere in people’s minds is
the sneaking suspicion that if we do it like the big boys and girls we will be
like the big boys and girls. But that syllogism can turn out to be false, and some
have fallen into that trap—including me.
Dave Ulrich, perhaps the wisest human resources expert around, uses the term
“interesting practices” to describe such approaches to a range of human
resources initiatives. They may work in the long run--or they may not. The key
is to understand the culture of the organization, the capabilities the
organization possesses, and the needs it is trying to address. Keeping up with
the GEs or the Microsofts of the world or even the IRSs does not mean your
approach to leadership development will mirror the outcomes of theirs.
Five Best Principles
It may make more sense to start with a solid understanding of what can be called
‘best principles’ in succession and leader development and then see which
practices will work for your organization’s culture and its specific needs for
future leadership. If you begin with the best principles, you can then safely
test out your proposed practices to see which ones best fit your situation. Here
are five principles that have bred success, specifically in excellent Federal
Getting It Right
In my opinion these are tantamount to being non-negotiable principles of
developing future leaders, forged from experience. These must be the framework
around which any leadership development program is designed before anyone starts
thinking about best practices. And if you look carefully, four of these five
principles are based on an assumption that it takes leaders to grow leaders.
These principles are not a menu; each one is critical to success. Successfully
applying these principles requires hard work and persistence over a long period
of time—make no mistake about that.
So, what do you see in your own leader development efforts in your organization?
If you are a leader, are you actively engaged in developing the next generation
in your own organization at whatever level (and devoting the time it takes)?
What barriers do you face in doing so? If you are an aspiring leader, what can
you do to help imbed these principles if they are not yet implemented? Do you
think you can make such an impact on those above you? Finally, is it a realistic
expectation that the public service leaders of today have the time and the
capability to help grow the next generation or the awareness that their
contribution is sorely needed?
Ray Blunt is currently the Associate Director and Fellow at
the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture. For the past 12 years
he has served as a leadership consultant and teacher for the Council for
Excellence in Government and the Federal Executive Institute as well as for
several government and non-profit organizations. He spent 35 years in public
service in the US Air Force and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. He is B.J.'s husband of 43 years and the father of two grown children, and grandfather
of five aspiring servant leaders.
Based on an article that originally appeared on cyberFEDS.
Reprinted with their permission. For information on subscribing to cyberFEDS®,
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