Reflections on public service leadership in the new year
It’s 2023, a new year, and with a new year comes opportunity to reflect, recharge and recommit.
I had an opportunity to do just that and recall the recent 2022 Government Changemakers Summit, one of the premier leadership development and policy convenings. Hosted by the Public Service Leadership Institute and the Senior Executives Association, the event convened more than a thousand participants in person and virtually to hear from keynote speakers, to network, and to learn from leaders inside and outside government.
It also provided attendees with the time and space to reflect on the core aspects—and impact—of effective public service leadership. As we confront a world of fast-paced and seemingly insurmountable global challenges in the year ahead, public service leaders should remember what’s at stake, bring a strong sense of integrity to their work and propel government’s larger mission to serve all.
What’s at stake?
Our government maintains an annual budget of more than $6 trillion to provide benefits and services to the more than 330 million people who live in our country. It also serves as a unifying force during times of extreme stress and consequence, marshaling the resources to engender a whole-of-society response to a global pandemic, to natural disasters of all sorts, and to national security threats both at home and abroad.
Strong federal leadership is critical to ensuring that our government functions effectively and meets these challenges. As they create, manage, champion, develop and deliver strategies and services that help people, federal leaders must act as stewards of the public trust and commit to the public good to keep our government on the right track.
Integrity and values are central to strong leadership.
As our country becomes further divided politically, it becomes increasingly harder to instill confidence that government will deliver during trying times. As a result, public trust in government is fragile and declining. The Partnership’s research shows that just four in 10 people trust government to do what is right at least some of the time.
That is why we need public service leaders of impenetrable integrity who use the oath of office to put the public first, stand for truth and are never swayed or influenced to change positions due to convenience or favor. To help in this endeavor leaders should hold near a reminder—physical or intangible—of why they serve: a photo, quote or other source of inspiration.
At the Partnership, our Public Service Leadership Model offers both career and political leaders a roadmap for effective leadership, outlining six core competencies and values that are key to making a difference in government. These include stewardship of public trust, commitment to public good, becoming self-aware, engaging others, leading change and achieving results. We know that leaders who embrace these values and competencies in their work improve our country’s overall health, safety and well-being. That’s why we are working to codify them as the standard across government for effective public service leadership.
Government should serve everyone.
While it is important for public servants to know why they serve, it is equally important for them to know who they serve. Effective leaders who are stewards of the public trust, hold themselves accountable, uphold the values of integrity and fairness, and consider how their decisions will impact our entire population, with needs ranging from economic security and old-age care to better accessibility and more.
At the Partnership, we bolster how agencies interact with customers by issuing data-driven recommendations, convening customer experience experts and championing legislative reform. Our annual “Government for the People” report outlines where government is—and is not—meeting the needs of our country, and highlights scalable strategies to reach everyone, especially underserved communities. When effective leaders prioritize these strategies across their agencies, they enable a more responsive, trusted and trustworthy government.
“A stone of hope”
In one of the event’s sessions, I concluded by citing a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic 1963 speech that is currently etched on the side of his memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Out of the mountain of despair … a stone of hope.”
The phrase reflects the true spirit of public service leaders. In a complex world with ever-present challenges, their skill, dedication and optimism helps government inspire confidence and deliver critical solutions that improve our daily lives and make a lasting impact on our country.
As we embark on a new year, let us continue to support, develop and invest in these leaders—or “changemakers”—for a better tomorrow.
Learn more about our offerings and resources at the Public Service Leadership Institute.