Today I attended the second day of the National Academy of Public Administration’s annual fall meeting. One of the sessions I attended, Answer the Questions: How to Lead in Difficult Environments. Leadership for Long Term Planning and/or Short-Term Fixes” had a remarkable conversation on what skills are needed for leadership in the public sector.
The panel included. Timothy B. Clark, Editor and President, Government Executive Magazine, Angela M. Evans, Clinical Professor in Public Policy Practice, Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas At Austin and Paul Lawrence, Principal, Advisory Services, Ernst and Young, LLP.
During the presentation, I jotted down the skills mentioned by the panel needed, here they are:
A leader has the ablity to know what the next step is, doesn’t always stay the course and understands the landscape in which they are operating in. The panel made this clear that a leader anticipates actions beyond just an organizational level.
This was interesting as the panel was discussing how they develop leaders and do not want people to just be checking items off a list. The panel was describing that they want future leaders to have the ability to see the entire picture and find what projects really have meaning to driving an agency forward.
This was described as the ability to think through a problem, find a solution, and debate the positive/negatives of a decision.This is clearly essential to anyone in a leadership position.
This was an interesting discussion brought by the panel. I think at a very basic level, any potential leader wants to be put into a situation where they can make the call. It’s a scary proposition for some, but an essential part of leadership. At some point, you have made a great analysis, but will need to make a decision and understand the consequences.
Strong ethical background
One of the panelist stated that just by committing to public service, there is a level of integrity and decisions need to be made against self interest. This means that a leader needs to be trustworthy, courageous, and empathetic – all important characteristics of a leader.
The panelist also mentioned the tensions of being a leader. Of interest, the tension of knowing when to control verse delegating and operating in areas that are black and white. The panelist also mentioned that a leader should have an inquisitive mind and someone with very strong relational skills.
There was also a comment by a panelist that some of the most succesfull leaders are able to draw a picture of a situation and explain.Taking the time to invest in a picture to display a situation in a new way for an employee, or to engage in a thoughtful discussion, is a critical component of leadership.
Overall, this was a fascinating discussion on leadership and the characteristics that are needed to become a leader within an agency.