The Next Generation of Leadership in Government

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Next Generation of Leadership in Government BY TYLER SUTTON, PUBLIC SECTOR DIGEST Strong leadership is one of the most critical components of a successful organization. Without strong leadership, an organization lacks vision, direction, and in some cases, a positive work environment. In the coming years, effective and qualified leadership will become a scarce resource in both the private and public sectors. The difference, however, is that the private sector has a greater capacity to draw in new management and leadership, and can more quickly adapt to changing organizational structures. Therefore, it is paramount for public sector organizations to begin taking steps to foster and retain the next generation of leadership from within. This task is especially vital for local governments who face the strictest budgets for recruitment and have such large numbers of senior administrators on the brink of retirement. LEADERSHIP & MANAGERIAL COMPETENCIES Photo marettesyndrome PSD | JULY 2011 |


One measure public sector organizations can take to secure a solid base of leadership potential is to implement a structured program of in-house leadership training. While most organizations offer the opportunity for some employees to attend skills development training off-site, a pilot project being offered by the Town of Innisfil Ontario in partnership with Mohawk College Enterprise has been developed on the premise that leadership training is much more than just management training. The CAO of Innisfil, John Skorobohacz, was fundamental in initiating Mohawk College’s Future Ready Leadership Program for Simcoe County. He believes that, “leadership is different from management and that they are not interchangeable.” The public sector is a breeding ground for strong managerial skills; prioritization, multi-tasking, and performance measurement, to name a few. However, strong leadership skills are much harder to come by; the ability to develop a vision for your organization, share that vision clearly with your staff and stakeholders, and then ensure that you have their buy-in. The ability to cultivate creativity, initiative, and risk-taking among your staff. And finally, the ability to share both responsibilities and accolades with your colleagues. These types of skills are best taught by working with others in similar positions and learning from one another. A training program devoted explicitly to fostering leadership, allows for participants to share successes and failures while networking—one of the most important tools in leadership development. The Future Ready Leadership Program is structured as a series of customized leadership training sessions held one day each month, over nine months. Session topics include facilitating change, embracing diversity, and leadership dynamics. Mr. Skorobohacz moved forward with the program to address the leadership gap he inherited when recently joining the Town of Innisfil as CAO: We had a significant deficit in staffing. There were twenty-three vacancies in an organization of one hundred and thirty people, many of which were at the senior level. That’s quite large. It was a huge departure of institutional knowledge. So when I came on board I started a recruitment process. The first step was to try and ensure that we had the right fit in leadership skills and corporate culture. Then we looked at opportunities in terms of training for those employees. Three of our five directors are in this training program. Then we have middle managers and front line supervisors participating. Twelve of the twenty-four students in the program are Innisfil employees. We then reached out to CAOs in Simcoe County and the uptake was positive. The remaining twelve students in the program come from five other communities. As a result we have cross-pollination. People from similar backgrounds but different communities are coming together. They can share ideas with one another after class. Funding for training is always a primary concern for local governments already strapped for cash. Training can be an expensive undertaking, and with municipal staff taking on more responsibilities due to staffing shortages, taking time out of the day to participate in training can be challenging. Innisfil applied to the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) and was able to secure a grant to fund the Leadership Program, thereby avoiding the use of tax dollars for the program. The CEO of Mohawk College, Don Baxter, explained that spreading out the sessions over nine months allows participants to better absorb the material while also allowing them to better incorporate the one day commitment into their busy schedules. Leadership training no longer becomes a taxing process for a government organization.


The CAO of Innisfil recognized that in order to cultivate leadership in his organization, he needed to look internally. But cultivating effective leadership in some municipalities can be just as challenging as cultivating a vegetable garden in the Canadian Shield. Where should a CAO begin? How do you foster leadership among a generation of managers that spend more time on a computer than interacting with staff? PSD interviewed a diverse panel of leaders to gain some insight into what makes a great leader in the public sector, and how to best cultivate leadership among staff on an ongoing basis. Leadership training can start a transitional change in organizational culture. But it is up to the current city manager/CAO to continue the process of leadership development beyond training sessions. CULTURE VS STRATEGY According to Mr. Baxter, “strategy is great for fostering leadership, but you also have to understand workplace culture. Culture will ultimately eat strategy for breakfast.” The CEO of Simcoe/Muskoka YMCA, Rob Armstrong agreed in stating that, “culture is even more important than financials,