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Good Leadership is an Imperative for Proper Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Rachel Robinson
May 25, 2018

A leader combines emotional intelligence with professional know-how and open communication to earn the trust and respect of her team. A leader teaches as she learns and guides as she directs. People follow a leader willingly. They look to their leader to set the pace of the office and leaders look to their team to support and contribute to the organization’s vision. And her team is loyal because they know that their leader is concerned about their well-being as well as that of the organization’s.

“Manager” is a title. It evokes no respect if the person who bears it has not earned it — the respect or the title. And it evokes no trust when the person who bears it fails to realize this. A manager who lacks leadership skills elicits resentment and apathy. And because of the central role a manager plays in shaping the culture of a workplace, a bad manager can plummet morale and cause unhealthy stress among the staff.

Good leadership is crucial in the private sector because companies must outperform competitors to survive. However, where leadership fails, the private sector has the flexibility and the resources to offer other incentives. For example, bonuses, benefits, and other perquisites. In the public sector, however, many of these incentives are statutorily limited. Therefore, good leadership is an even greater necessity for agencies who, by the way, provide crucial public services with finite resources.

If a private enterprise fails, it closes. But when a public agency is failing, it must continue to hobble along, even if it is performing so poorly that it is no longer fulfilling its mandate to society. This can happen when the agency is not able to retain the talent necessary to perform its mission. And since agencies can do little about the (lack of) bonuses, benefits and other perquisites, it is imperative that they maintain people in leadership who can inspire loyalty and build trust through the aforementioned emotional intelligence, professional know-how and open communication.

Forbes published an article entitled What Makes A Good Leader? Key Differences Between Management And Leadership in which the Forbes Coaching Council explains that “a leader’s charisma lights a fire in people to perform” while “managers come from a command-and-control perspective.” This “command-and-control perspective” can be especially problematic when dealing with professionals who have spent years studying and practicing their profession. A professional has prepared herself to take ownership of projects; to contribute creative solutions to problems. And a professional requires—and deserves—recognition and respect.

In Why Managers Should Care About Employee Loyalty, Brigette Hyacinth explains, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” This statement is especially true in the public sector where many employees have chosen their jobs out of a sense of duty and a desire to contribute to the needs of society. These highly skilled, highly driven people will be appreciated elsewhere. As Hyacinth warns, “Your competitors are waiting at the door with ‘treats’ to lure away your top performers. If you keep treating employees like they are replaceable, you will pay the price for this.” And the price can be steep, especially considering the limited resources of a public agency.

Hyacinth cites data taken from 30 case studies in 11 research papers that reveals loss of productivity, the cost of searching for a new employee and reduced productivity while training a new employing can cost up to 20 percent of the salary of each employee who leaves. Additionally, team morale and stability is affected as other employees question their loyalty to the organization. Hyacinth, quoting Richard Branson, encourages employers to, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” In a public agency, where scarce resources meet crucial social missions, this statement is more than an aphorism, it is an imperative.

In order to help employers meet this imperative, Hyacinth provides a list of helpful tips which can also be adhered to by public agencies:

*Don’t treat employees like machines

            *Create opportunities for growth and development

            *Reward employees’ efforts

            *Don’t micromanage

            *Provide adequate training and support

            *Show empathy

An organization is only as strong as the people who comprise it and it can only perform as well as its people are willing. In a public agency, good leadership is crucial to build and maintain a strong and resilient organization that can properly perform its important duties for society. And while agencies do not have competitors per se, talented public servants who feel undervalued or stifled by oppressive leadership in one agency will seek to serve society through another. This will be costly, not only to the agency that loses that talent but also to that community, where the quality of service will suffer.

Author: Rachel W. Robinson, Esq. holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a specialization in Leadership and Management and a Juris Doctor with a specialization in Public Law. She currently serves as a prosecutor in Denver, Colorado. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachel-w-robinson-esq-a69922a/

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