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5 Future Leadership Attributes for the Public Administrator

Leading Resilient Communities

The issues that matter most to people remain true: they are still concerned about jobs, safety, education, the environment, healthcare, and infrastructure, and they continue to present distinct challenges for elected officials and city, town, and county managers and their staffs. 

So what do we as leaders in the 21st century local government need to effectively lead the way? From a new report in LGR: Local Government Review, ICMA executive director Bob O'Neill states that we can safely say that the management skills and organizational systems we've developed over the past century will be prerequisite but not sufficient to address the challenges of 21st century local government. What will be sufficient is a type of innovative thinking that requires local leaders to

1. Balance engagement with achieving results.

American diplomat, educator, and author Harlan Cleveland, who was also former dean of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a mentor of mine, used to say that the value proposition for managers and their staffs will be “how do you get everyone in on the act and still get action?” Appointed managers are stewards of important democratic processes, but results matter, and local government leaders must give equal consideration to these two leadership goals.

2. Bring together disparate constituencies.

According to the work of Peter Drucker and Daniel Pink, the quintessential skill of the 21st century will be the ability to bring together multiple and often diverse disciplines, sectors, and stakeholders so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like a conductor in a symphony, we will need to orchestrate the work of an entire network of actors—private, public, and nonprofit—over whom we have little or no control—in an entirely different way.

3. Tell stories.

We know from numerous scientific studies that the human brain is hardwired to need stories, not logic and data. Stories are a part of us from birth, and their logic aligns with how we naturally think. Our challenge is to develop powerful stories that relate to the hard data and create the emotional connection that enables organizations to get things done and change behaviors.

4. Become right-brained.

Daniel Pink also wrote that every 21st century leader must rely on the classic, whole-minded aptitude of design literacy. Pink is not suggesting that all local leaders become graphic artists but that every community challenge has significant design implications, so whether it’s building a public hearing space, launching a new website, or developing or refining a process, design matters, and the outcome will often be determined by the quality of the design.

5. Work small to achieve the large vision.

Business and management author Jim Collins and others describe the role that the “incremental revolutionary” plays in moving things forward. Local governments exist in a highly diffused power system in which often no one person or group has enough power to make something happen, but very often many have enough power to stop something. The “incremental revolutionary” focuses on achieving small victories that build the momentum necessary to ultimately achieve a broad vision.

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LGR - Local Government Review Cover Image

ICMA PRESENTS LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW (LGR), PUTTING RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE - GET YOUR COPY TODAY! 

A special section of Public Management (PM) magazine, LGR puts key research findings and expert insights about current local government issues and trends into the hands of members and PM subscribers—and at no additional cost! This collection of articles is available in the December 2016 print issue of PM and digitally through PM+Online.

From November 1 through November 30, non-ICMA members and non-PM subscribers can receive $10 off a year’s subscription of PM (print or online), which includes the special, 48-page LGR insert.  On December 15, nonmembers may purchase e-copies of LGR through ICMA’s online bookstore for $46.

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