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Are We Planning for Future Leadership?

THE PUBLIC SECTOR:

The public sector will continue to operate with leaders who remain in their positions for many years. In most situations, administrators bring decades of experience. They have built up a wealth of knowledge and come with decades of solving complex problems. It is difficult to deny that having an established manager to run a municipality speaks volumes.  However, what happens when that person decides to seek alternative employment or retires? Yes, panic ensues, and the “oh boy, what do we do now” reaction happens.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR:

When private sector companies lose leaders, there is a plan to avoid leadership gaps. Even in cases where an executive retires in a larger municipality, a deputy will temporarily fill in the role. The key is to have someone in line to lead.

PUBLIC SECTOR SUCCESSION PLANNING:

In a situation where there is no assistant or deputy manager, the duty falls on elected officials. The need is critical to secure essential roles that remain filled with qualified individuals. One particular way is to amend a home rule charter or ordinance that deals with this situation. Is there a director who can take on the responsibilities in the event of a sudden retirement? Would it be the finance director? Does the law allow for the chief elected official such as a mayor or the council president? The sensible answer is that it depends on the form of government and what the law allows.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Opportunities to rise into leadership positions exist throughout the country. Studies show that public administrators remain in a single place of employment for an average of seven years. The figure is an estimate and does suggest someone stay longer than the average. In some situations, it may extend beyond ten years. The more years an administrator remains, the more experience gained and continuity maintains.

During the tenure of an administrator, succession planning should be a topic of discussion. There are variables that play into how or when to create such a plan. However, in most cases, the process seems non-existent, neglected, and undervalued. External factors are endless, and with any difference in political strategy or unresolved conflicts, people lose jobs. There is no way to predict how elected officials may behave when proving a point.

PRESIDENT WILSON:

Administrators are political appointees. The teachings of President Woodrow Wilson, the father of administration, are critical in this context. In an 1887 article titled ‘The Study of Administration,’ the text discusses the administrator as the central figure. Taken directly out of the passage, President Wilson opines, “namely, that administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not suffer to manipulate its offices.”

THE LESSON:

The words spoken by President Wilson have merit and purpose. As time grew, so did personalities and technology, namely social media. Scholars could not envision political influence to remove administrators when a change in guard occurred in elections. It is important to analyze the current leadership.  In the case of an election changing the government, new officials may alter how the administration looks. The continuity of operating the organization during a time of transition is critical. Legislative safeguards exist to prevent a potential shutdown or a mass exodus of department heads. The concern is with new leadership and their employment loss.

THE POLITICAL BAD WORDS:

One of the stark realities is that governmental entities exist with no such safeguards in place.  When reading news sources, a small percentage of municipalities survive by allowing nepotism and cronyism to influence decisions. These two words are dangerous and allow for the possibility of the government failing in its essential purpose.  It is critical to note that universal precautions are imperative to prevent malicious intent. An example is returning a political favor or providing positions of leadership to a campaign donor’s nephew. The practice will continue until the organization prevents the behavior.

SET AN EXAMPLE:

It is incumbent on local government officials to place their municipality above all other values.  Everyone should strive to remove personal animus or directly repudiate a former administration merely for politics. Although this practice is avoidable in most cases, it is unfortunately not an exception to the norm. Creating a succession plan with qualified individuals is important to the organization’s success and requires careful planning. President Wilson was unable to foresee the role of administrator and its unintended political consequence.  However, it is critical to avoid the pitfalls of not having continuous leadership ready to serve. The challenge is finding trustworthy leaders and maintaining the qualifications to ensure a level of excellence in public administration. There should be a desire not to degenerate the industry to further political ideologies.  In conclusion, there should be a desire to not corrupt the position that President Wilson sought to avoid.

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