Barriers to Public Sector Leaders? Part 3

In the last two blogs we discussed the three issues were associated with risk tolerance in the public sector which stifles innovation, application of business principles to public sector efforts, and the lack of vision and understanding of consequences.  In this blog we will explore the third issue – the lack of vision.  This is perhaps the hardest of the three parameters discussed.  One would think that applying private sector business principles would help with the vision process, but it does not because the terms for elected officials are comparatively short term.  In addition, our demands on the private sector are short term profits which has hurt the long-term vision of both public and private sectors.

What is a vision?  It is supposed to be a concept of where you want your organization to be in a longer-term future.  It is an agent for change and those developing the vision are outlining the change they want in the organization.  What services are to be provided, what water sources are to be used, energy self sufficiency, wastewater reuse opportunities, incorporation of storm water to sources waters, etc.? All possible ideas, but they only scratch the surface of the universe of opportunities that might exist.  The key is change, which normally requires thinking outside the proverbial box.  Change rarely comes from doing the same thing over and over.  Change requires innovation. So by its very nature, the status quo is not leadership because no change is required.  Managers who “don’t rock the boat” may be excellent managers, but they are not leaders.  Elected officials who’s mantra is not to raise rates, are not leaders either.

Your customers often are a great source for defining vision.  They will tell you what services they want.  I recall a meeting went to where I was talking about leadership to some elected officials.  The public was present in force.  I brought up the concept of developing a vision.  The public was encouraged.   They spoke out about ideas.  All very good.  Then one of the Board members informed everyone that vision statements were the job of the attorney and he would just write one up.  That did not go over nearly as well as that Board member had hoped.  He was abdicating his roles in overseeing the utility as well as any leadership role he might have hoped to have.  The public knew what they wanted, and it was clearly change, something the Board member clearly did not want.

So the question is “are we that afraid of change that we cannot tolerate leadership?” Are managers and elected officials so concerned about change that they actively suppress it despite public outcry?  I often raise the following question when talking to elected officials – how many statues have been raised for politicians who did not raise rates?  We’ll talk about that next time…


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