NAPA looks at 21st-century leaders

As experts continue to debate the future of public service, they agree that organizations must prepare a new generation of public employees to be 21st-century leaders.

The National Academy of Public Administration and Human Capital Solutions, a consortium of workforce consulting companies, published Feb. 2 the results of a leadership symposium it held late last year. Participants explored potential steps for developing public service leaders suited for the new challenges of governing.

Several current and former public officials contributed their ideas as symposium participants: Prudence Bushnell, former dean of the Leadership and Management School at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute; James Colvard, a faculty member at Indiana University-Purdue University - Indianapolis’ School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Mary Lacey, program executive officer of the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System.

The other participants were Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; David Walker, U.S. comptroller general, the top official at the Government Accountability Office; and C. Morgan Kinghorn, NAPA’s president.

Symposium members agreed that neglecting to focus on developing new public leaders will have harmful consequences for the country, and they offered ideas for solutions.

For example, they said the Office of Personnel Management could review and modernize its criteria for leadership competency. New competency measures should include a high tolerance for ambiguity and exceptional ability to cope with change, they said.

The participants offered a variety of other ideas, including:

  • Focusing on developing leaders at all levels within an agency, not simply at the top.

  • Developing new leaders by moving employees into positions in different parts of an agency, not simply to higher-level positions.

  • Integrating successful military leadership development practices into federal civilian agencies.

  • Giving human resources officials greater leeway for improving their leadership development programs by changing the current federal job classification schedule.

  • Promoting leaders who are willing to share their authority with their subordinates so that those employees can gain experience as leaders.

  • Choosing leaders who embody the values that they want all employees to have.

  • Reducing the number of politically appointed leaders, who typically care more about policy objectives than about management changes.

In his first term, President Bush needed to fill 3,300 political positions, according to a footnote in the symposium report. The number of political appointees has grown steadily since the Kennedy administration, which had only 286 political appointees.

Inept supervisors and managers also undermine public service, the report states. Symposium participants said following IBM’s example could fix that problem. The company created a dual-track compensation system that rewards technical skills and manager/leadership skills as two equally valuable but different types of skills.

Because IBM took those differences into account when designing its compensation system, some IBM technical employees at the peaks of their careers earn more than anyone else, including the chief executive officer.

Similarly, DOD redesigned its civilian pay system to create more flexible job classifications, according to the symposium report. The new system, which is bogged down in litigation, would let the department increase the pay of its valued technical employees without moving them into supervisory or managerial positions for which they might have little enthusiasm or ability.

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