• Welcome to the FUTURE!

    The PublicFutures BLOG keeps you current on the latest research and thinking on major trends, policy shifts, 'hot topics', and evolving perspectives about the Future. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS or get email updates so you are kept up-to-date on all the latest posts.
  • Email Updates

  • Share the FUTURE with the world!

  • Learn more at our Company Site

Leadership and Motivation

Having had the pleasure of presenting a leadership program to participants of the Northwest Community Development Institute this week, I was reminded again how much is known but forgotten about motivation. My ‘enlightened frustration’ did not come from Institute participants, who are a motivated and aware group, but from reading an article on motivation in the April 12 edition of Fortune Magazine.

Written by Telis Demos, the article cited work by the Boston-based company Globoforce, which consults on employee motivation, among other things. The article implies that the firm’s experts have discovered that the secret to motivating employees lies not in compensation but in small, unannounced, and frequent rewards that recognize contribution and involvement. The article praises this approach, implying that these ‘theories’ are new and innovative. I am both amazed and troubled by this.

Historic contributors to leadership and motivation science include Maslow, McGregor, Lewin, Herzberg, Senge, and, more recently, Daniel Goleman, who gave us Emotional Intelligence (EQ). We have known for over 60 years what motivates, what satisfies, and what diminishes workforce performance. As far back as the 1920s there were studies that revealed the value of inclusion, involvement, and appreciation. The Hawthorne Effect was founded on such principles over 80 years ago. So why is Demos lauding Globoforce ‘theories’ when they are merely restatements of well-known and accepted workplace social science? There is no doubt that this company’s key element for motivation is the element of surprise, but this too is well proven and for decades has been cited in various academic studies.

Unexpected praise is a good thing. Recent studies by professor Hayagreeva Rao at Stanford seem to indicate that the element of surprise is more important for the recipient than the size or nature of the reward. Keep this in mind as you develop your workforce…the most compelling and critical element of every public agency or government. However, be aware of the wealth of information that underpins the rationale and premise for employee motivation. Having this knowledge provides insight and a mirror that reflects not only your style but your inclination to reward. This is critical because many senior managers choose to not recognize or reward employees for work they consider part of normal job duties. This is a mistake. Showing appreciation pays huge dividends and creates a culture that cherishes accomplishment.

I suppose the message for public leaders is that motivation still relies on established factors that include frequent praise, small rewards (often non-monetary), showing appreciation, inclusion, and establishing a sense of team. Virtually none of this is new to seasoned public managers; the key question pertains to whether we are properly executing accepted social psychology principles in a manner that, especially for these challenging times, builds dedicated teams that are resilient, collaborative and productive.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). His new book, Planning the Future – A Guide to Strategic Thinking and Planning for Elected Officials, Community Leaders and Public Administrators, will be available in fall 2010. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

Government as a Learning Organization

A previous National Commission on the Public Service survey indicated that the best and brightest prospective new employees seek the following from their jobs:

-Challenging work

-Personal growth

-Pleasant working conditions

-Good social relations

-Job autonomy

-Service to society

-Job security

-Professional recognition

-Opportunity for advancement

-Pay and other financial rewards

-Prestige

 In itself, this list is not remarkable; these survey results are virtually identical to surveys conducted over the years by Fortune, Forbes, Inc. and other magazines as well as the Society for Human Resource Management, American Society for Training and Development, McKinsey, and various universities. What IS remarkable is that this particular survey was conducted in 1988. And, in the intervening 22 years, government has retreated from quality training and failed to establish potent learning environments where talented employees can thrive and contribute.

Of the cities and counties I visit, by far the most successful are those that value training and employee development. There is a commitment to development and in celebrating individual and group contributions. I find it deeply disturbing that so many public agencies choose to eliminate employee development and training programs at a time when productivity, efficiency and quality are critical. Job sharing requires cross training; multitasking to cover new service gaps requires higher knowledge and skill levels. These do not magically appear.

I propose that renewed effort be made to create a learning government by:

-Restoring employee training and education budgets

– Creating a new skills package for all employees

– Basing pay increases on skills and job performance, not time in grade

-Insisting on a new kind of problem-solving public manager…not paper passers

-Encouraging a new style of labor-management communication

 This list is not mine. It was originally published in the First Report of the National Commission on State and Local Public Service in 1992! I add the exclamation to emphasize that these recommendations were made 18 years ago and in the interim virtually nothing has changed OTHER than a further decline in employee and professional development. This must be addressed.

We have found that, done properly, employee development is not expensive, yet can positively transform the workplace. It can add stability while boosting efficiency, productivity, and quality. In turn, this can reduce costs and more than compensate for budget dollars dedicated to training and mentoring. 

Being prepared for current and future challenges requires competence in team development, greater communication and problem solving skills, and the ability to mobilize talent across departments and entire communities. High performing public agencies are committed to quality services. Outputs and outcomes are carefully planned and measured. Skill requirements are known and developed as a foundation for the future. What is happening in your agency or area of government? Is employee development and training a formal, respected, and integrated facet of the overall organization?  If not, why not?  After all these years, there has never been a better time.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

Leading Economic Reform

As a country, Germany has exhibited Europe’s most significant effort dedicated to lasting public sector economic reform while balancing various social contracts. Over time, realizing the danger of long-term union and social contracts, Germany has managed to remain adaptable while building new means of productivity, seeking new efficiencies, and expanding avenues of commerce. Posturing in difficult economic times reflects poorly on political leadership and soon leads to a decline in consumer and general citizen confidence. France, Italy, Sweden, Spain and Britain have all remained reluctant to address public sector pay or contractual amendments. All share in similar economic conditions – lagging economic recovery, marginal options for generating growth and glacial movement toward meaningful reform.

Economic reformation has been less than the rage in the United States, especially at the state and local level. Financial efforts have for the most part focused on reducing programs and services just enough to remain above the red line, a statutory obligation. Rarely is there the will to create a longer-term approach to public financial management that is not contaminated by political overtones, but is governed by true vision and commitment to broad based solutions.

Germany is able to balance public sector fiscal reform while seeking new platforms for economic development that promote private enterprise. Public unions seem to get the ‘All for one’ condition and have not recoiled when jobs are reduced, pay compromised and contracts idled. Is this a model for the United States? In some ways it points the way to at least a new proposition grounded in both a regard for social cohesion and a willingness to alter the social contract. Private employers have downsized, reduced benefits, ceased union contracts, and generally borne the brunt of economic challenges. Public unions, pensions, and welfare programs have been off limits due to the inherent risk tampering brings to reform-minded officials and administrators. To be sure, there are some public employee pensions that create huge long-term burdens for fund managers. Reform would address associated inequities and questions pertaining to why some public employees can retire with six figure incomes while others, just as deserving, barely survive.

True public leadership requires the will to review the entire range of social contracts involving the public sector as well as others dedicated to the poor, unhealthy and disenfranchised. We are a caring and giving nation…that need not change. But, like so many have said, not addressing Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and various pension funds signals an end to this Nation’s ability to remain an economic force.  When will this finally occur? In some ways, Germany has provided a template – not so much for how to proceed, but that a nation can proceed without incurring the wrath of the citizenry. There, balance was not only maintained, it has been strengthened. Can this occur in the United States? Time will tell but someone must take the lead…and soon.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

Assessing the Possibilities

As a thinker about the future there are several questions that belong in your tool kit. The first involves how to generate ideas about possible futures. Don’t be afraid to ask about the potential for an event to occur or a situation to arise. What is the potential for the population to increase, traffic congestion to grow, immunization rates to fall, or economic development activity to decline by 20 percent? A strategic thinker is constantly looking for trends that will offer some indication that a change will occur – or not occur.

The clarity and simplicity of strategic planning, along with support from employees and stakeholders will depend to a great extent on viable data that illuminates various possibilities. These can be either beneficial or detrimental to the organization, state or community. The key question is, ‘What does the data tell us about the potential that an event might or might not occur?’ Remember it is just as important to consider the potential of a desired event not occurring as to consider the potential of a negative event or situation occurring.

Public leaders and managers must be not only willing but interested in and committed to scanning the horizon for positive and negative possibilities that will impact the community. When working with public administrators and elected officials I look for or attempt to produce several characteristics that are important to possibility assessment.

  1. A natural curiosity about the broader world and a natural worldview.
  2. Leaders and managers who are well read and in touch with current events.
  3. Courage to pose difficult questions about where the agency, community or government is going.
  4. An appreciation for the past but a focus on the future.
  5. Interest in the ideas and suggestions of others…open to new concepts and possibilities.
  6. Willingness to actually try something new…and to change direction.
  7. An interest in and appreciation for data and data analysis; the courage to ask ‘What does this mean?’
  8. An understanding that there are some things that are not predictable but there are many things about future events that are predictable.

For those contemplating who to promote or appoint to a strategic position, I recommend these (and other) characteristics. Possibility is related to vision wherein one might ask, ‘What are the possibilities for this state, community, or organization to achieve greatness?’  In addition to exploring bold, encompassing visions, strategic thinkers must also ask ‘What is the possibility that X might occur and how do we prepare for that eventuality?’

Predictability

Traditional forecasting using mathematical models takes public managers in the wrong direction and creates frustrations that reduce willingness to participate in planning. In my view, it is better to use geology, material science, demographics and a variety of If-Then scenarios based on both empirical evidence AND knowledge/ intuition about the subject. Let’s take material science as one example.

Asphalt road surfaces are made from composite material engineered to bear huge vehicle loads, withstand extremes of heat and cold, hold painted reflective material, and endure rugged use for long periods with little maintenance. Material scientists specializing in road surfaces have calibrated, through years of testing and experimentation, a formula that will work in virtually any condition on the planet. Public works and transportation professionals, mostly civil engineers and highly trained road surface and materials technicians, are well schooled in these formulas and can calibrate them to state, city and county needs. They don’t need complicated probability calculations to determine how long road surfaces will last if they know traffic and weather patterns, and track other variables as they occur. From experience, they also know proper maintenance schedules and how to maintain road surfaces to maximize longevity and durability.

Here’s the point…public leaders and administrators must be able to predict potential outcomes in order to effectively forecast maintenance, operating budgets, and other unintended events that may or may not occur. With proper training and perspective public employees are perfectly positioned to make fairly accurate predictions and calculate probability without complex formulas and exercises that generally get them no closer to an accurate prediction. Is your agency prepared for the challenges ahead? Do you discuss various possibilities, their predictability and probability?

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures at http://www.futurescorp.com).

Fortitude and Public Leadership

Last week Tom Friedman wrote a piece for the New York Times (Real Men Tax Gas) that got my attention, especially after my recent Blog on public Leadership (Leaders Stand Up, September 8).  Mr. Friedman’s premise, which threads through much of his recent commentary, is that, if we make the tough calls now, we will reap major positive transformational changes that will ripple throughout American society. However, for some reason, decision makers are more comfortable with traditional policies that prolong war in Afghanistan, grid lock the health care debate, and facilitate dependency on foreign oil. He somewhat strongly states that Americans are ‘wimps’ for failing to deal with the really tough issues – those that impact our pocketbooks…such as taxes that could solve many of the current conundrums.

Because if its foresight, France (yes, France!) now generates almost 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. It manages nuclear waste, security, and location issues without rancor and has developed a society that embraces nuclear energy as a fundamental utility platform. The U.S. has not built a new nuclear power plant since the 1979 Three Mile Island mishap where no one was killed or injured. Scientists have testified that the storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is safe, yet thirty years (!) have passed without progress toward what many scientists believe is a key component of an electric grid that can power the predicted super trains, light rail, and growing need for commercial and residential electricity. Will the cost be enormous? Yes, but what about the ultimate value of the investment? Return on Investment (ROI) is a factor in this discussion, especially with the predicted cost of oil within five to ten years. Don’t get me started on the predicted cost of asphalt…a key ingredient of infrastructure maintenance. It alone could bankrupt many public works departments and state DOTs or drastically alter their balance of services.

Friedman also cites Denmark, which had the foresight and fortitude to impose a very high tax on gasoline (close to $5 per gallon) and used the generated revenue to invest in North Sea oil exploration, new energy conservation initiatives, and a variety of innovative energy production options. Decision makers there had no more or better data than we have in the U.S., but were prescient, prudent and tough enough to make the hard call. Pay now before we have to pay A LOT later, seemed to be the rationale. The decision seems to have also been driven by the assertion that ‘WE know what’s best for us and we will make decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the Country.’

Referencing energy economist Phil Verleger, Friedman notes that a $1 tax on gasoline and diesel fuel in the U.S. would raise close to $140 billion a year. And, if he had that additional revenue, he would allocate 45 cents of each dollar to pay down the deficit, 45 cents to pay for new health care and 10 cents to cushion the burden of such a tax on the poor and long commuters. By biting this very big bullet, Friedman suggests that such a tax would improve oil-related national security, reduce the health insurance burden on American business, expand health care coverage options, and add new dimensions to several strategic positions held by the U.S.

The point is that conflict arises when decisions have immediate and recognizable costs associated with actions. From what has been reported, any discussion about new taxes is ‘off the table’ in Washington, yet Congress continues to spend enormous sums on traditional government actions, such as war in Afghanistan, foreign aid for dozens of countries, special earmark projects, and entitlements. There does not seem to be much stomach for getting ahead of several predicted curves and spending now to prevent catastrophic social and economic costs later,

The questions for communities remain:  What is most important for the long-term preservation and continued development of every community? What expenditures produce the greatest long-term benefit for the most people? What are the essential foundational platforms that must be in place to preserve our society and leave a Legacy for those who come after us? And, do we have the fortitude to do what is critical now in order to reap the benefits later? Time will tell.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.  www.futurescorp.com  (public futures)

The Future and Public Leadership

A few years ago I was presenting at the American Public Works Association International Congress and had an opportunity to work with David Zach, a talented and entertaining futurist speaker. My program later that afternoon was on the future of public works and addressed challenges leaders would face. One area where David and I differ relates to the concept of predictability.

Even as a trained futurist, David’s stated view was that the future is not foreseeable and it is folly to attempt prediction. I disagree. While there are certainly many variables that will have impacts that are impossible to predict, there are many that have measureable and predictable outcomes. Public leaders need to understand those trends and be committed to planning for predictable community impact. Remember, much of history is cyclic – it repeats itself…you just have to understand history, be aware of the trends and have the foresight to implement ahead of the curve. What goes around DOES come around.

A New Era

My best guess is that we are indeed entering a new era…it is a time of transition and transformation. Predictions range from the end of the world in 2012 (according to the Mayan calendar) to devolution into a global agrarian society within a hundred years. We read predictions of the United States being divided into four autonomous mega regions, China eclipsing the U.S. as the global economic power, and about worldwide class or religious warfare. Those things are hard to predict…but there are a LOT of sharp people dedicated to positive outcomes related to climate, economics, peace, and global collaboration. For every negative possible future, there is a positive future. For virtually every negative variable, there is a counter-trend. However, change is in the air. Tipping points have been reached in several areas and be assured – the pace of change will accelerate. The outcomes could be profound. Is your state or local government ready? Are you sure? How do you know?

Scenario Planning For Public Leaders

Converging variables related to water, peak oil, global economics, environmental degradation, and global climate change are real and most exhibit data that contributes to predictability. Similar data exists for economic development, infrastructure, and natural resource utilization.  Public leaders must be adept in the art of Assessing the Possible. It is essential to know state and local trends, understand potential impacts, and have clarity about short- and long-term community impact. Very few elected officials or public managers have been trained in scenario planning as it relates to government or public agencies. Fewer have developed expertise in this form of long-view strategic thought or have implemented local collaborative programs. Now is the time.

Government Failures

Most Americans are in denial. They believe that, with a little luck and a few stimulus dollars, things will soon return to the good old days. Others predict a longer return to ‘normal’ citing an inherent inclination toward innovation and the creative American spirit as forces that will right the ship.  Not going to happen – at least not the ‘return to the good old days’ part. It’s a new day…a new era. And government at all levels MUST provide leadership. Several things must be done:

  • Government leaders and managers must become more enlightened about converging trends that will bring enormous community change.
  • These same leaders and managers must understand the difference between issue and impact; change doesn’t matter much unless it has impact. What are the potential IMPACTS of known trends and predicted changes?
  • Government must become more collaborative and share a longer view; impact and opportunity will encompass regions – not just communities. How can we engender a new commitment to regional cooperation?
  • At all levels, government must become more aware of escalating issues and challenges; it must be more adaptable and nimble when addressing known or predicted events. This takes leadership – not politics.
  • Inertia is eroding the democratic process…there is gridlock everywhere. Some pretty stark changes will take place when gasoline is $6 then $9 per gallon…perhaps then we’ll see collaborative efforts to address mass transit. With peak oil now an openly discussed, data-driven fact, how long will it take to address the ‘what’ ifs’ related to reduced oil supplies and $9 gas? Same with climate change and potential for drought in key agricultural areas, reduced mineral supplies, and eroding infrastructure. I won’t even get into Social Security and Medicare costs or the health care debate.
  • We must deal with fundamental issues – many related to finance and business- but others related to ‘first things first.’ What are the basic human and community needs that provide the foundation for quality of life, prosperity, and economic vitality? Never mind that there may be a notable contraction in the size of local economies; people can still prosper and have a great life with much less. Does anyone doubt that?

Unite to Confront a Common Foe

Everywhere I go I encourage government leaders to ‘Confront Reality!’ The common foe is not change; it is the unwillingness to confront issues and pose tough remedies. Oceans will rise, the planet will continue to warm, the global population will grow, oil and other natural resources will be depleted, and cultures will compete. It is the historic cycle. The most critical questions pertain to our response and willingness to make a commitment to a future legacy. Government is being overwhelmed; converging challenges are just too big. Regardless, a new transformative era is underway and gaining momentum. The real work begins with every state and local community and, as strategic thinkers, there is much we can analyze, predict and address. It’s time for every community to confront the evolving world and pursue thoughtful strategies that forge new alliances and totally new paths to desired alternative futures. There are options and opportunities.  But, do we have the vision, competitive spirit and will to collaboratively work through each complex issue? And will we do so before it is too late?

 

 

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.  www.futurescorp.com  (public futures)

Leaders Stand Up

I am always intrigued by the annual lists of ‘Best Leaders’ appearing in some of this Country’s most prominent magazines. One would assume that, with all the nifty people identified, the U.S. must be awash in the type of leadership that can guide us to whatever promise land we envision. However, without diminishing any of the fine people who appeared in various publications over the past year, what seems strange is the dearth of local leaders identified for their enormous contribution to communities throughout this nation.

Last year Robert Samuelson wrote a nice piece citing trust as the central factor in instilling confidence in times of turmoil. Whether the financial, industrial or public sector, progress depends on the willingness of people to accept challenge and move forward. In The Great Confidence Game (Newsweek, September 29, 2008) Samuelson references the financial system, but confidence is just as important for every other facet of American life. We are a nation of believers…just give us something to believe in and we’re on board. But lately, with a year of acute challenge behind us, it seems that people desire a finite local presence – a touchstone that warrants trust and builds confidence. As the recovery struggles onward, the ability to generate confidence will become our most precious asset.

As I noted some time ago in another post, communities seek four things during difficult times – Clarity, Direction, Truth, and a Dignified, Harmonious Leadership Style. They also require forums for exchange and opportunities to seek understanding. Above all, people need a practical vision of the future that is believable and achievable; the days of ethereal vision statements are over.

In one periodical listing America’s Best Leaders, I recently noted that, while there are a few deserving educators, most selections are apportioned among the fields of science, health care, economics, business, the arts, and activism/ advocacy. Only one local government leader, Miami’s exceptional Mayor, Manny Diaz, is cited as one of America’s outstanding leaders. As president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Diaz is a great choice and epitomizes the best of local government leadership. If you are unaware of his contributions, you should review further – he’s pretty amazing.

But what of those who toil daily to keep the wheels from falling off in cities, counties and state agencies across America? The ICMA annually recognizes exceptional leaders among a wide variety of local governments and always celebrates their many contributions to their local communities. But is this enough? When I first began the Leaving a Legacy and Public Futures programs, the premise was (and remains) that some of the best leaders, innovators, and managers in America are found in state and local government. This is where the rubber truly hits the road and where things must get done. Potholes on Main Street are there for all to see – as are public parks, sports facilities, emergency response by police and fire, snow removal, water, wastewater, public health and zoning issues. Local leadership is magnified and scrutinized; it is challenged with insufficient funds, growing demand, and people in need. Above all, local leaders are accessible – they are on the front lines every day.

I am unsure of the mechanism but I would like to spread the news to the media and the public: Many of the truly great leaders in America are local officials, managers, and hard working employees. If things get really tough in this Country – and the signs point to more challenges ahead – it will be local government that responds and performs. Maybe then local leaders will be recognized.

As with virtually all of the ‘Best Leader’ selections, few, if any of the best local leaders will ever seek recognition. Perhaps it is enough to know they are there. And just maybe that will be enough to elevate confidence and trust to new levels. Something has to change.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.  www.futurescorp.com  (public futures)

A Certain Legacy

This morning NPR is dedicating much of its program space to remembering Ted Kennedy, who passed away this week. Comments and tributes aired from those showing their respects were terribly emotional and all had a similar message – this man spent his life helping people. Regardless of the personal and family tragedy that followed the Kennedys, the Senator never lost focus on what mattered most – communities, people, and progress.

Democrats, Republicans and Independents share a common perspective about Senator Kennedy. While known for his vigorous support of legislation dealing with human and social rights, health care, immigration, and education, he also believed in the legacy of free enterprise. He was far more than a ‘liberal’ who won accolades for championing the rights of the poor and middle class. He collaborated on a great deal of legislation authored by Republican Senate colleagues better known for their support of business. Kennedy rarely shared that spotlight. He understood the value of public policy and its relation to commerce. He was all about jobs, small business, and economic development; he merely chose to speak out most often about what was his most enduring value – helping those who cannot help themselves. Whether school children, immigrants, or the homeless, Ted Kennedy cared and it showed.

I would imagine that, for many readers a great deal of their lives is devoted to the concept of Legacy and preparing for an uncertain and challenging future. I believe the Senator embraced the highest ideals of the Common Interest – creating a nation and society that cares, shares, and reaches out. This cannot be done without sacrifice and without an understanding that every community must take care of its own. More than ever, our focus must be balanced between social fabric and economic development. Senator Kennedy had an innate sense of this and was a master – probably the greatest– at seeking balance.

 I feel a great loss. One’s political affiliations matter little at times like this. We all lost a champion and a voice for reason. I am unsure how much balance will be lost in the Senate. But I do believe that Kennedy’s spirit and commitment to themes central to social progress and well being will endure. Whatever your viewpoint, I encourage some introspection about what he stood for, and some reflection about how we can all make our communities stronger, more cohesive, and better prepared for what lies ahead.

 

 

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.  www.futurescorp.com  (public futures)

Do Chief Executives Matter?

It seems obvious that corporate CEOs like Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs are more than consequential. In June 2008 Apple’s shares lost close to $5 after the company admitted that his ‘health issues’ were more serious than first reported. This one incident initially cost the company around $4 billion in market value. Jobs’ history is well-known. His creative genius (along with Steve Wozniak) allowed Apple to flourish around the Macintosh desktop computer during the 1980s then rebound through success of the Mac Book, IPod and IPhone during the 1990s and 2000s. His creativity, prescience and relentless drive to innovate have allowed Apple to grow into a corporate icon. Similar stories abound around such corporate giants as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jack Welch, or Larry Bossidy. The question then, is whether these CEOs have something that differentiates them from other managers and does it make them indispensible? More critically, do CEOs, in either public or private organizations really matter?

The Public Executive

In his book, Who’s Your City (Basic Books 2008), Richard Florida cites Jane Jacobs’ comment that communities everywhere are filled with creative vigor, but many are ‘managed’ by squelchers who are control freaks who constantly place barriers between innovative employees and community leaders and opportunities for progress. In these cases, narrow-minded, uncreative, uncompromising executives are the antithesis of thoughtful civic development grounded in hard data and a vision of the future. Having worked in government agencies across the Country, I can say that CEOs do indeed matter. Whether mayors, city managers, county commissioners, county administrators, or governors, appointed and elected leaders must have the essential characteristics of openness, vision, awareness, a world view, and the willingness to collaborate. Without these characteristics, their tenure is often viewed as dull, tedious, frustrating, and repressive.

Leadership of the Future

Paul Osterman, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has stated that middle managers are the real heroes of successful organizations. While CEOs might come and go, the stability, character, skill, and institutional knowledge of middle managers is generally sufficient to continue an organization’s performance. The enormous pace of change will continue to stress elected and appointed CEOs. More importantly, it will require them to more effectively utilize the mid- to late-career professionals who populate public agencies. This will become more essential as downsizing occurs at every level of government. How CEOs address talent, training, and the sharing of institutional memory will define their ability to lead. Focus must be internal (organization development and performance) as well as external (mission-driven and community centered).

Situational Leadership

The real question is not IF leadership matters, but when it matters. Public leaders – especially elected officials- must respond to situations that are often outside their experience. The ability to seek counsel, review facts, and make decisions that are in the best Common Interest also defines their tenure. The days of figurehead public CEOs is over. Communities need strong, sensible, innovative thinkers who are focused on the future – not the status quo. Transformation will occur. The only question is whether public leaders/ managers will strategically lead or be buffeted about by gale force winds of change.

How would employees and communities rate your various CEOs? What are their characteristics and are the essential elements of leadership, vision, creativity, and progress inherent in their style? IF given the opportunity to strengthen local leadership, is there a willingness to undertake personal and professional growth? Are local leaders prepared for future challenges? CEOs matter…and will matter more every year.

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.

Wisdom of the Founding Fathers

Rarely is there a YouTube video that truly captures the spirit of America while providing more clarity about this Country’s true nature. The video produced this week for YouTube by The Common Interest and narrated by Keith Allred reviews, in less than 10 minutes, the most fundamental element of the Constitution. That element, most eloquently expressed in Federalist Paper #10, examines man’s inexorable tendency to form factions. Understanding the nature of man, factions are inevitable, so the challenge typically drifts toward control rather than moderation. The beauty of the Constitution is that it established a government capable of controlling the scope and potential harm that can be caused by any single faction without attempting to control its formation. 

James Madison’s Vision

Even more remarkable, James Madison carried to the Philadelphia Convention a vision of social and constitutional mechanics that would protect liberty while promoting the right to form parties of common and special interests. Demonstrating his understanding of human nature, Madison stated,  “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex ad oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”    

As the United States has grown the number of factions has also grown. But it is this Nation’s very size and diversity that moderates the impact of any one faction or party. So, what is the message for this 4th of July? Very simply, every society has special interests that promote the value of their position, perspective, and contribution. But it is the Common Interest that matters most. When all is said and done, there are two essential questions for elected officials, public managers, and citizens – ‘What is best for the community and the Country? And, given the realities of our time ‘What is in the best common interest of all citizens?’

I encourage you to view the video and share it with colleagues.  It is worth archiving as a key element of new employee orientation.

 

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John frequently speaks and consults on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges.  See www.futurescorp.com and select PublicFutures.