Key Challenges of The Public Service Leaders

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From Napoleon Bonaparte to Adolph Hitler, and more currently a religious cult leader, Jim Jones who influenced the more than 900 disciples to commit suicide by swallowing poison, poor leadership has been experienced. As a result, people are increasingly becoming aware and interested on who and how they are being led.  And this is bearing on the leaders, who are increasingly facing new challenges. The key challenges these leaders will face over the next five years are as follows:  

Key challenge number 1 is change where public sector leaders are meeting a more complex world than their parents lived. Over the years, there has been a change in public perception on their leaders. The once taken as a hero walking with some kind of magic is in fact seen as a villain. In other words, the emphasis has shifted from explaining wise decisions to accounting for the irrational actions of leaders. How did Truman come to decide to drop the atomic bomb not once but twice? Why did President Kennedy go along with Bay or Pigs policy? Why did Nixon not burn the incriminating tapes? We turn to groupthink of Janis to account for irrationality of leadership” In other words, perceptions have changed.

Another development has been taking place is that even in the age of relativity in morality; people still expect leaders to portray extemporary character. A leader’s character flaw still captures headlines.  The media has gone too far into revealing what happens in the most private life of a leader that it is no longer clear what is private and what is public in the life of a leader.  This challenge will accelerate over the next five years, as people demand to know more and more about their leaders’ morals and ethical standards.

The key challenge number 2 is change in expectations put on the leaders shoulders, both implicit and explicit are too much to bear. Performance must be seen, profits must be registered, and the results published in a morning paper for the public to see and scrutinise. Stringent deadlines, time lines, quarterly reports have to be met. The pressure to perform is too much on leaders. And, leaders are continually realising that the people they lead are much more complicated that they earlier thought. Bennis writes, “We have the new and important emergence of Roosevelt-Keynes revolution, new politics, new dependencies, new constituencies, new values.”

Key challenge number 3 is in the global complexities. Snyder wrote, “Paradoxically, post-modern culture points simultaneously in opposite directions: toward both fragmentation and integration. The world is falling apart and coming together at the same time. Fragmentation: collapsing empires, growing pluralism and relativism, decaying family life, escalating violence, the shattering of old ideologies and scientific theories. And yet integration: increasing global connections, growing environmental consciousness, fresh forms of community, expanding communications networks, new proposals in science for a Theory of Everything (TOE).” And these complexes will have a direct bearing on leaders.

Having seen the Watergate scandal, World Bank scandals and all scandals in the public office before their eyes, and given the leadership dilemma in the society today, people want to see a new kind of significantly different leadership that satisfactorily deals with the fears and problems that people hold. Leaders must be accountable to the led. Accountability must spread to all in the public sector leadership, from politicians to corporate leaders, and even to religious leaders. Hence, public sector leaders must be transformational leaders.

Daniel Katz and Robert L. Kahn, The Social Psychology of Organisations (2nd Ed.), (New York: John Willy & Sons, 1978), 526.

Classic Readings in Organizational Behavior, op cit, 333.

   Earth Currents, op cit, 13.


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