Challenges of Leadership in Public Service: Global Experience and Lessons for Pakistan

July 3, 2012

Talks & Interviews

Peter Reed

: Mr. Peter Reed is a strategy, organizational and human resources development consultant specializing in the reform and modernization of public administration and governance through institutional capacity assessment, strategy mapping and senior management development mentoring. He is also the author of Extraordinary Leadership – Creating Strategies for Change. Reed was invited to deliver a talk on “Challenges of Leadership in Public Service: Global Experience and Lessons for Pakistan” at the CPPG on the 8th of December 2010.

Reed opened by setting out the public service operating environment as the context of his talk. In most countries it included the political dimension, professional managerial dimension and civic dimension but in the Pakistani context, it was also necessary to consider the military dimension. These four groups of leaders were the main stakeholders in the policy formulation process and needed to collaborate for effective public administration and innovation, introduction and implementation of reforms, and continuous performance improvement in service delivery with a comprehensive approach that could lead to policy outcomes for people. He articulated that ideally the policy outcome framework should be clearly defined by the political leadership but if not, then it could be reverse engineered through a combination of stakeholder inputs and interventions, given impartial expert facilitation of the necessary participatory process.

He argued that business as usual in any one of the leadership dimension or mix of them was not enough. Innovation was essential for better policy making, strategy mapping, and responsiveness to stakeholder needs; for balancing priorities, continuous improvement and value for money. But the opportunities for innovation must come in the overlaps and interaction of the four groups while the stimulus for innovation could be led by any one of them. Given that these groups held different degrees of influence and power, they also held varying ability to create this stimulus, though there was a greater potential that it would come from the professional managerial leadership (the civil services). According to Reed, each group had a respective contribution towards the innovation stimulus. The politicians should lead on ensuring outcomes for the people – the policy choices and priorities for the people’s desired ‘end state’. The civil service should lead on economic forecasting, strategy planning, budgeting and continuous performance improvement, and service delivery – the means to achieve this end state. The civil society should lead (if allowed to) on democratic institutions, commissions, rights, rule of law, justice and find ways to inform the policy debate. Lastly, the military should lead on security, stability, and policy advocacy because there would be serious impediments to all other if the security situation was fragile. Additionally, all groups should take a pragmatic view of what constitutes ‘good enough governance?’ because things will never become perfect overnight. There would always be challenges, but one needed to aim for a clear and achievable end state.

“…the opportunities for innovation must come in the overlaps and interaction of the four groups while the stimulus for innovation could be led by any one of them.”

Reed then introduced John Adair’s leadership model which challenged a leader to balance three goals: one, achieve the assigned task; two, manage and maintain the cohesion of the team; three, have an awareness and respect for individual needs. For a leader, achieving the task would always be necessary – he or she is, by definition, in the position to achieve something. But it was paramount to pay attention to the individual needs of team members, their idiosyncrasies, psychology, style and capabilities as without it, sooner or later, there would be trouble that might easily prejudice achievement of the next team task. Asserting that the task of the leader was to balance the interplay of these three aspects, Reed related the model to the challenges of public leadership in the Pakistan public service and public administration context.

“…policy analysis was often mistaken for strategy while actually policy was the ‘what and why’ whereas strategy was the ‘how’.”

The political leadership did initially set out to be strategic in the short-term and long-term but had a tendency to revert to opportunist and even arbitrary ways of leadership. The goal, if understood as a clearly defined end-state and objective was often not clearly articulated or communicated, and the task of achieving policy outcomes for people was often subordinated to partisan political interests. There was often an unwillingness to engage stakeholders, especially opponents in policy dialogue and thus there was often an inability to maintain the whole ‘team’, while the individual needs of players, sectors and citizens were insufficiently accounted for.

The role of civil service should ideally have both management and leadership perspectives. However in most cases, human resource management and training were not given enough importance, leading to no real leadership development or succession planning; promotion being on length of services and good conduct as opposed to merit or achievement. Even where there was a genuine interest in reforms, too many impediments existed due to bureaucracy (rules of business and regulations) making it impossible to incentivize reform. Poor policy frameworks and processes often implied a lack of clear strategic priorities for sectors especially if budget allocations could not be trusted. Thus a lack of results oriented planning and budgeting tended to produce an ad-hoc and incremental approach, leading to fire fighting rather than fire prevention. Additionally, the task of delivering good policy priorities was often compromised by disillusionment of unfulfilled political promises especially budget allocations.

Civil society had a huge potential to influence policy given their high levels of education and keen interest but were currently a lowly player, and civil servants did not consider it their responsibility to engage civil society as it was not a requirement in their job descriptions. Democratic institutions like Human Rights Commissions, Anti-Corruption Commissions and Ombudsman Offices frequently had no teeth. Similarly, academia was not significantly influential in policy making. Thus despite civil society’s high respect for the rule of law, it seemed disillusioned with governance and with its ability to influence it.

The military on the other hand was usually task-orientated, had clearly defined goals and a tradition of needing an articulated end state. It was team-oriented (within its own team) and placed high importance on team-spirit, morale and loyalty. However, out of its own environment, it was not so good in understanding the psyche or language of civilians, in perpetuating its ethos and consequently tended to see itself as elite. Moreover, the military also had high respect for individual needs & trained their people at all levels to a high degree. So by and large it was quite good at balancing the three leadership aspects.

Reed then referred to Tuckman’s model of situational leadership stressing that to maximize productivity in a particular situation or project, a leader must adapt his/ her leadership style according to the needs of the team and the project as different styles of leadership were appropriate for different stages on the critical path. The correct sequencing of tasks was equally important as all tasks could not be done at the same time thus devising a sound strategy became imperative. He suggested that policy analysis was often mistaken for strategy while actually policy was the ‘what and why’ whereas strategy was the ‘how’. Analysis was not strategy. Strategy was the ability to visualize the end state and to work backwards from there with a clear understanding of existing present capacities; while definition of priorities was the bridge between policy and strategy. Theoretically, policy making should come first from political leaders but it was often informed or reversed engineered through Strategy Mapping to inform what was actually possible and how much could be managed with inevitably finite resources. When a matrix consisting of four perspectives was developed for the various components of Strategy Mapping, it led to a Balanced Score Card (BSC). Perspective Four: the Key Performance Results which needed to be achieved stood on top; Perspective Three: Financial and other Resources (such as partnerships) necessary to achieve these results came next; Perspective Two: Processes and their Improvement, defined the key means and mechanisms to get there; and Perspective One: Capacity Development and Learning – at the base of the model – captured what organizational and human resources capacities needed to be strengthened.

There was logic to this, such that if one got the capacity development right, it would improve processes which would lead to better use of resources and partnerships and therefore increase the likelihood of achieving the key performance results. Thus by listing key strategic objectives against the four perspectives along with the measureable targets and indicators for each, one could build a BSC which was extremely powerful, and an effective way to inform and engage stakeholders concerning where they fit in the scheme of things.

Giving a broad overview of strategy, Reed identified the key challenges for public service leadership as: policymaking, deciding the end state, managing performance to get to this end state, managing uncertainty, managing change, and adding value. He then followed this with suggestions to overcome these challenges. For policy making, a manageable number of outcomes (around 5-6) for each sector should be defined. The civil services should conduct policy planning, development and drafting of contracts, policy analysis and evaluation to inform and moderate the policy making process. While achievability of policy outcomes was constrained or endorsed by the security and economic situation, at least the required structures and mechanisms needed to be in place and functional. Additionally, effective communication of policy choices was pivotal but depended on credible and effective public information campaigns.

For performance management, he suggested that this must be understood and introduced at the systemic, institutional, departmental, organizational and individual levels. It was difficult to begin with but gradually, as people started to understand and accept, it could clarify their goals and objectives, and provide them with a credible plan and a meaningful job description. At an organizational level, periodic benchmarking against an initially assessed baseline could help management to measure continuous improvement. Additionally in Pakistan, the incremental and ad hoc planning and budgeting needed to be replaced and aligned with credible, predictable resultsorientated budgets and plans for the medium term (3-5 years). For managing uncertainty, he stated that although it was an important role of a leader to reduce the level of uncertainty for the next subordinate levels, most people resisted assuming responsibility for this, and welcomed leadership of it by somebody else.

“…a lack of results oriented planning and budgeting tended to produce an ad-hoc and incremental approach, leading to fire fighting rather than fire prevention.”

He argued that leadership in the management of change was the collective responsibility of politicians and civil servants as it had to be collaborative. He referred to the work of Professor John Kotter of Harvard who wrote that the essential stages of effective change management were initially to create a sense of urgency, then to form a ‘guiding coalition’, a group of professionals with determination and authority to identify the vision and clear goals. This was followed by communicating the goals within and beyond the institution, programming the process, creating some quick wins and finally broadening and deepening the process to secure sustainability of the changes.

Concluding his arguments, Reed recommended that politicians needed better coordination of the policymaking process, better stakeholder analysis, a clearer vision for the medium term and more effective communication. The civil service needed political will behind them to support, legislate and remove bureaucratic impediments that were out of date. They required less political interference, evidence based analysis, a credible budget and medium term strategic planning. Most importantly they needed longer tenure to sustain changes, leadership succession planning and appropriate incentives. Civil society (and its representative organizations) needed greater influence, deeper engagement in reform programs, respect and more opportunities to learn from international experience. The military needed to welcome a gradual shift to civilian oversight, be less factional and more trusting of civilian leadership. He pointed out, however, that earning this trust was also dependent on efficient, effective and strong civilian leadership. That demanded a transparent engagement in the policymaking process and clarity about particular situations like Pakistan’s Afghan strategy which was, in itself of course, a subject for another day!

“…leadership in the management of change was the collective responsibility of politicians and civil servants as it had to be collaborative.”

The talk was followed by a engaging question and answer session. Replying to a question on how to enable consensus building on strategy, train and develop leaders and reform the bureaucracy, Reed argued that it was the responsibility of the political leadership to involve the concerned stakeholders to make good strategy. In the absence of such political leadership, senior civil servants should take the lead on innovation, strategy formulation and mapping. For development of leadership, well developed leadership competency frameworks and their implementation case studies already existed and could be used. But to reform the system, there was no alternative to political will.

“…to reform the system, there was no alternative to political will.”

Responding to a question on other factors influencing policy making such as the role of media, policy advocacy of the military and foreign interference, Reed remarked that freedom and professionalism of media varied across countries and thus it was important to differentiate between good investigative journalism and gossip and scandal based journalism. He propounded dialogue and coordination between civil and military experts especially in stabilization of post conflict situations and lastly put the onus on political leadership to minimize foreign interference through pragmatic dialogue by taking a stand so that policies were not donor-driven.