Principles of Good Management: What Happened to the Public Sector?

In today’s politically-charged environment, we are seeing patterns of behavior that rally against the premise of what constitutes best-in-class leadership as well as broadly-accepted management principles. During 2017, we have witnessed management patterns and norms from bygone days. Let’s remind ourselves of these core tenets that up until quite recently, were fully understood and embraced by leaders across both the public and private sectors. 

First, great leaders give balanced feedback the right way, in the right place and at the right time.

While the content of feedback discussions is important, how and when feedback is delivered is just as critical. That means managers need to deliver feedback that is timely, balanced, and shared in private. Openly criticizing individuals in public is simply bullying in the workplace instead of the schoolyard. Managers early in their careers learn quickly that difficult feedback should be shared in private; senior leaders who perpetuate this behavior are clearly doing so purposefully and to exercise visible control over staff.

Second, great leaders hire great leaders around them and empower them to get the job done.

Theodore Roosevelt perfectly captured this notion -- "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

This notion could not be more relevant today. Ask any leader what they look for when hiring their direct reports – those who are smarter than the CEO, those who provide alternative points of view, and those who can operate autonomously while keeping the bigger picture front and center. A leader leads best when she/he can step away and a well-oiled machine continues to operate seamlessly.

Third, great leaders take full responsibility for the total performance of the organization, especially in a high-change environment.

When you lead a large, fast-moving and complex organization, it can be easy to blame those around you or in the trenches for poor execution. With so much information passing throughout an enterprise, it can be challenging for leaders to ensure they are working with the most current data set. Mistakes will inevitably be made in between all of the decisions that are deemed right. Regardless of the challenges leaders face at the top of the pyramid, the fact remains that the CEO is ultimately responsible for how an organization performs. 

This challenge is compounded when an organization is undergoing significant change. Often when a new CEO assumes the position, he/she has inherited an entire organization, communication expectations, culture and other organizational norms, which drive how work is accomplished and how individuals interact. The CEO of course will bring in new people, set new expectations but drastic and significant change takes time, and true leadership.

Fourth, great leaders communicate clearly, thoughtfully and successfully align multiple constituencies behind the firm’s most critical priorities. 

Leaders use a broad array of communication tools from more individualized approaches to larger–scale messaging techniques. They recognize that communication is both an art and science – the message itself it just as important as how it is delivered to ensure clarity and common understanding regardless of platform. From executive team weekly sessions to open stockholder meetings, great leaders ensure they are on-message. They ensure their entire staff is on message. They minimize needless distractions; they don’t create them. 

Finally, great leaders put the firm and its performance first above all else, including themselves.

A leader’s effectiveness is judged ultimately by how the firm performs; whether the relevant metrics are stock price, EBITDA, ROIC, employee engagement, or customer delight, a CEO is only as good as the total value and performance of the organization they lead. Of course, there is always an element of politics inherent in all organizations; however, private industry would never enable politics to interfere with or overtake the total performance and mission of the company. Most organizations have an established set of checks and balances or way of managing risk to ensure that employees and leaders have prioritized stated goals and deliverables.

In reviewing these basic tenets, it is clear that the U.S. government has a management problem indeed.

Karyn DetjeComment