What makes a public service leader? Tune in to the latest Profiles in Public Service podcast.
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What makes a public service leader? Tune in to the latest Profiles in Public Service podcast.

May 23, 2022 | Updated on May 31, 2022

On this episode of the “Profiles in Public Service” podcast, Washington Post journalist Lillian Cunningham joins co-hosts Loren DeJonge Schulman and Rachel Klein-Kircher for a conversation on how to lead in government during normal times and times of crisis, as well as why the study of public service leadership is critical for our nation’s public servants. 

Episode summary

Listeners will hear from Cunningham, an editor and reporter at the Washington Post who is the creator and host of The Post’s “Presidential,” “Constitutional” and “Moonrise” podcasts, and served as editor of the newspaper’s “On Leadership” section that explores leadership and management challenges in the public and private sectors.   

In this episode, Cunningham discussed various trends she has observed in her exploration of public service leaders throughout history, including:

  • The challenges of leading during the absence of a crisis.
  • The range of experiences, including difficult circumstances, that have prepared individuals to be excellent government leaders.
  • The evolving opportunities and pathways that exist to become a government leader. 

Looking backward to see forward

Cunningham described the role that studying history has often had for many public servants, including, but not limited to, U.S. presidents: “[We] study history to understand the present and to be, in some way, better equipped to project forward about what path we’re on and what choices we make now that will lead to certain consequences.”

She noted that the study of history not only informs leadership decisions, but also the changing values and standards to which we hold presidents and other government leaders accountable.

“The study of the presidency, like so many things, is a reflection on our values today,” Cunningham said. “It’s a chance for us to ask ourselves questions about who we want to be as a nation… and what standards we want to hold people to when we think of them as great.”

Indeed, the Partnership’s Public Service Leadership Model describes the standards and competencies that government leaders ought to fulfill as stewards of the public trust, including a deep-rooted commitment to the public good.

Recognizing the unsung heroes in public service

Cunningham observed through her research the countless public servants who have been essential for major government accomplishments and projects, such as the space race, but who are often lesser known.

“You could take sort of any story from American history and start peeling back the layers,” Cunningham said. “There’s so much to learn about all the people and all the work that goes into these great leaps forward.”

In her “Moonrise” and “Constitutional” podcasts, Cunningham highlights many of these unsung heroes, including agency leaders, Supreme Court justices and engaged public servants who were committed to our progress as a nation.

How to listen:

Tune in to this episode, “What makes a public service leader?,” from “Profiles in Public Service” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Loren DeJogne Schulman: From the partnership for public service. This is profiles in public service, a podcast that shares the stories of public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier, and more prosperous We talk with career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists, and many more to better understand what it means to be a public servant, the incredible variety of careers possible in government and how public service impacts all of our lives.

I’m Loren DeJogne Schulman

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher. This week, we will be diving into why learning about the leadership of public servants matters and how the study of public service leadership has often been an integral part of preparing our nation’s public servants to lead.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: We are joined by Washington Post reporter Lillian Cunningham. Lillian is the creator and host of the Posts’ “Presidential,” “Constitutional,” and “Moonrise” podcasts. She’s also been responsible for planning and editing the Post’s coverage of leaders, leadership, transitions, and management challenges at both the public and private sector

Rachel Klein-Kircher: In 44 episodes over 44 weeks leading up to election day in 2016, Lillian’s presidential podcast explored the character and legacy of each of the American press. The show was a 2017 Webby award honoree for best documentary podcast and a finalist for best news politics podcast in 2016 from the academy of podcasters.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: Lillian’s other podcasts constitutional also discusses our nation’s leaders, specifically the people who framed and reframed the U.S. constitution revolutionaries, abolitionist, suffragist, protestors, Supreme Court justices and presidents.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Finally, Lillian’s podcast, “Moonrise” was named one of the best podcasts of 2019 by Apple Podcasts and tells the real origin story behind America’s decision to go to the moon and what was required from leaders in our government at the time to accomplish such a huge undertaking.

Welcome Lillian to profiles and public service.

Insert Transition Music

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Lillian, thank you so much for being here today. I have to admit, a little bit of excitement on my part because previously, you were editor of the Washington post ‘On Leadership’ section, and that is actually how I learned about the Partnership for Public Service. Every Sunday, I looked forward to reading the print version of that column and so if it wasn’t for you and the Washington Post, I would not be doing this podcast right now. So, I need to thank you for that right up front.

Lillian Cunningham: Oh, that’s so great. Well, I’m so glad to hear that.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So again, very excited to have you and speaking of the ‘On Leadership’ column at the Washington post, you won two Emmy awards for your video interview series with leaders across politics, business, and the arts. So tell us, how did you become involved with writing and reporting on the concept of leadership?

Lillian Cunningham: Sure. So, I found my way into that area after going to graduate school in journalism. I worked as an associate editor at the McKinsey Quarterly which is McKinsey’s business journal. And there, I focused particularly on issues of executive leadership. They would do these massive studies of CEOs and leaders also in the public sector as well. That kind of cemented my interest in all things leadership, which I then went from there over to The Washington Post to, as you said, run the ‘On Leadership’ section there.

That kind of gave me a chance to take some of the more, I’ll call it, like academic kind of work that I was doing on leadership studies over at the McKinsey Quarterly and to put that to the test in real world and real time reporting on leadership in the news. So, ‘On Leadership’ would do stories about workplaces that were deciding whether to ditch performance reviews or interviews with cabinet secretaries. So we tried to really take this study of leadership and look around us and ask, you know, what’s happening today where we could apply this, this lens?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I appreciate your calling out, you know, the real world and the real time, because we can all read a textbook on what a good leader is. But in reality, we’re all human and life happens and there’s so many variables. So, it is interesting to think, you know, what is it that makes a good leader? As you said, all things leadership, you can also learn by observing leaders that are not so great. I was curious listening to your podcast with David Maraniss, your “Presidential” podcast, and talking about former President Clinton.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: He had mentioned that he “rude not having a major crisis to be really tested, to establish himself as a great president.” On our podcast, so many of our guests talk about when there’s a crisis, that’s when you have an opportunity. All that you’ve studied and all the people that you yourself have questioned and what you’ve observed, do you think a leader needs a crisis to establish themselves and make their mark?

Lillian Cunningham: That’s such a great question. I mean, I would say that I don’t think they need it though this actually reminds me of something that has always stuck with me from an interview that I did with Marcia McNutt, who was the first female director of the USGS [United States Geological Suvey], and I remember her saying that it’s actually, in a lot of ways, easier to lead during a crisis than it is to lead the rest of the time. I found that such a fascinating but– the more I sort of studied leadership the more I came to think– very astute observation.

Motivating people and moving them toward a vision and a goal is really much harder in the absence of any sort of clear overwhelming external directive, you know, whether that’s a volcano erupting that you need to respond to, or a war, or any number of crises that you can face as a leader. While certainly I’m not going to say it’s easy to lead through these big momentous events, you do at least have the sort of focus and the energy and the direction that it feels so obvious to the team you’re leading.

And so, I really do think that in the absence of that, it requires a lot more skill and work on the part of the person at the helm to figure out how do you get people to stay that committed, that dedicated, that focused, especially on long-term hard goals, when it’s just a Monday?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right! Right. This is something I hear on panels a lot where you have experienced executives talking to brand new, you know, whether it’s senior executives in the government or mentors coming back, talking to entry-level staff, and saying exactly this.

With crisis comes opportunity, go for things you never thought you could do, and sometimes what happens is that there isn’t even a chance to decide, do I want to do that, or can I do this? Because the crisis has already happened, you have to step up and do it. And I love how you crystallize it, right?

Like on a regular Monday in the absence of the thing that we’re all reacting to, how do you get everybody jazzed up for… what? Like it is more obvious what the mission or the goal is when there is a hurricane or when the pandemic hits. It’s completely fascinating. So, as you are thinking you know, putting all of this over the lens of presidential leadership and you created your podcast “Presidential,” how did all of this work motivate you to really think about this through the history of all of United States presidents? And what got you into launching your podcast on that specifically?

Lillian Cunningham: The work I was doing for ‘On Leadership,’ was the backdrop. It was fall of 2015, and we were starting to rev up for the 2016 presidential race. As the editor of the ‘On Leadership’ section, I saw before me this challenge looming of how we were going to cover this race for the presidency?

What sort of public service could we offer to readers, listeners, you know, our audience to help them sort of better make sense of the choices they had in leaders before them? And to me it felt like, you know, when I thought about myself and what would be useful, I thought I got kind of what I would imagine as the standard education about the presidency in high school and college where you kind of focus on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

But I really felt like I actually didn’t have a deep well of knowledge about what it was that had made particular people successful in that position of power, and consequently what that would mean as a voter and as a citizen you should look for when you’re trying to think about who you want to, you know, use your vote to elect?

So I thought, you know, wouldn’t it be this great exercise to use sort of this perch that I have talking about exploring leadership issues at the Washington Post, surrounded by current and former white house correspondents, and in the city that has the Library of Congress and all these great resources, to go on this epic quest starting with George Washington and each week, like working my way, chronologically up through each president.

I really tried to get the smartest people who have studied these figures and studied the presidency to help me and, you know, through helping me hopefully help a bunch of listeners really better understand the all men (so far), who have held the office. What got them there? What made them successful or less successful once they were in office? And then kind of leave it up to us as listeners and citizens to kind of take what lessons we wanted to about what that means for who should hold the office going forward.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: In any of your learnings, do you think, or did you hear which presidents took also took this seriously and took this journey to learn about the ones that came before them to know what to do and what not to do?

Lillian Cunningham: Yeah, that was a really interesting revelation for me was to see how many of the presidents were themselves, students of history. And a lot of them were, you know, some were actual history majors in college and there were presidents like John F. Kennedy, who wrote books about other leaders in public service and Theodore Roosevelt was a huge reader and lover of history. So many of our presidents were. And I can remember talking with historian David McCullough, and having him say that, you know, if you can see backwards, you can also see forwards which is a line that has also stuck with me forever since then.

Just this idea that you don’t study history to study history. You study history to understand the present and to be in some way better equipped to project forward what path we are on, and what choices we make now will lead to, you know, certain consequences.

And so I think, it’s not necessarily a perfect one for one, but there really seems to be some correlation between the people who we think of, or tend to, you know, sort of lump into the category of great presidents, being those figures, who were just already sort of naturally inclined to want to see beyond just the moment around them. The ones who wanted to know what had come before them and have that help think about legacy. Because I think in a lot of ways, the most transformative presidential figures were the ones who were able to sort of pick their head up out of those sort of deluge of tasks, crises, and stuff that landed on their desks and say, ‘what is it that in this time I have in the office, I really want to do here?’ How do I propel the country forward? And I think that instinct to sort of think about legacy and think in the longterm is sort of tied also to an ability and interest in, you know, looking backward as well.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Was there one or two that stood out to you that really did that very well and made decisions, showing that they had been thinking like what went on in the past and how best to apply those lessons to their current situations?

Lillian Cunningham: So, this is a little bit different than what you’re asking but I do think one example, and this is like, sort of, of course leaving the politics aside of if you like, his accomplishments or not. I think a very recent example is Barack Obama who you can see even just in the language of the speeches he gave; how much he drew on the great speeches and moments in presidential history. You can tell that he has studied Lincoln’s addresses. You can tell that he studied FDR’s iconic speeches. That sort of history of the office was so present and alive in the way that he approached the role. And again, of course, it is more than just drawing on speeches like hopefully a president is drawing on the sort of fundamental lessons of the office as well, but I think that is even just one place where you get kind of a glimpse of how certain of these men who held the office sort of came to it already, already thinking about their sort of place in, in the line of, of people who had held it before.

And certainly Barack Obama also talked a lot early on about the book, Team of Rivals, which Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about Lincoln and the way in which Lincoln had sort of built his cabinet and had tried to surround himself with people who didn’t all think exactly the same way as he did, how that shaped some of the decisions he made when trying to sort of shape his leadership team and make sure he wasn’t surrounded by, you know, just men and women who said yes and nodded their heads along regardless of whether they thought he was going off course or not.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, I love that example. You mentioned Lillian a lot of the presidents have this background of you know, being well steeped in history, political science, etc. Are there other trends either that have lasted throughout this whole succession of leaders? Are there new themes that you’re seeing of different paths that the country’s leaders have taken over time? I mean, I know there’s a history of military service for many of them. And did you find anything that is surprising or just something very strong that’s coming through that, yes this is what you know, many of these leaders are coming from?

Lillian Cunningham: Well, I think one of the big takeaways from going through this exercise of looking over the arc of presidential history is the degree to which on the whole, there is less and less of a prescribed path to the office of the presidency or even really to public service. I think more generally today, if you look back to the early years of the presidency, you often see a very similar sort of ladder that people would climb. And normally one of the hallmarks of that was you almost had to be secretary of state at some point in order to become president. Which now, I mean, it’s certainly not– I think by most voters’ minds– a prerequisite at all that they feel like they need in their president.

So, there are, I think what you see… I am going to caveat this with we still only had men in the office. We have still only mostly had white men in the office. So, while it is not a diverse office by any means in those regards, I do think that, over time there has been loosening in the type of background that we think could bring strengths to the office, right? Donald Trump had no prior history of serving in public office. We, you know, we actually haven’t over our history had that many presidents whose fathers have been president it’s happened a couple of times. But one of the biggest, interesting trends that I found in studying the presidency was actually the number of these men who came from really difficult backgrounds.

That was something I had just not processed before I moved through this chronologically and saw how many, how many of these men had fathers who died, had childhoods in which they were abused, who had mothers who had passed away, who were in charge of caring for all their siblings. A number of presidents who were like illiterate for the first 15 years of their lives.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Wow.

Lillian Cunningham: There are a lot of really difficult circumstances that these people emerged from. In some cases that I think you could say these challenges sort of drove them. That they were challenges that they, through some internal motivation, felt a need to reach beyond and push themselves out of.

I think, you know, it’s kind of for me, a nice antidote to what on the surface looks like we’ve had a lot of the same people in charge in this country. When you sort of drill down a layer deeper into their stories, I think you do see a real range of people born into wealth, people born into poverty, people who served in the military, people who went abroad, people who were driven to public service because it was drilled into them, through their families and their up bringing and others who just like found their way there because they were passionate about a cause. Anyway, that to me was a really exciting part of the process was just getting a much richer sense of all the paths that can lead there.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that and I feel you’re, you’re definitely speaking to where our hearts are at the Partnership. We’re just wanting to encourage that next generation of public servants and getng young people excited about serving government and the fact that there’s any career you can possibly have, and there’s a home for you in government. Not something I knew when I was in high school, and I certainly wish that I did.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I actually heard from one of my colleagues that her brother who teaches AP government had a moment on your podcast, “Presidential.” It was around President’s Day, and I believe you were talking about how to teach history, given how polarizing the climate is, if I have that correct. And I’d love to know your take Lillian on how do you take these lessons in teaching about the history of presidents and turn that into encouraging more young people to consider a career in public service? And also dovetailing off of what you were saying about just the diversity of backgrounds and how people are driven to serve in different ways and what gets them to where they are today?

Lillian Cunningham: Yeah. So, I think part of where I would start, and I know that this is hard when teachers already are strapped for time to cover everything they want to cover with their students. But I think an amazing thing to do would be to broaden our teaching of the presidency beyond just the big names.

I really think that we do a bit of a disservice to students when we only focus on a small set of figures who we sort of considered, you know, capital G great leaders. Because I think for one thing, they start to be put up on pedestals that make them feel inaccessible and sort of beyond human. I think that if we had the opportunity and this is a lot of what I think just happens through self-education which things like listening to a podcast can do for you.

But when you have the occasion to spend more time, really thinking about who these [presidents] were as human beings and to also sort of map, not just those who were like absolutely outstanding, but you also see the number of people who came in between. Those who had failures as well as successes. That not only humanizes these leaders, but I think it just helps connect the dots which I think when we’re trying to better understand our history is just so important. I think that there’s a lot to learn actually from studying people who weren’t successful. You know, I think as much to learn from them as there is to learn from people who could move mountains.

Lillian Cunningham: I think in some ways the James Buchanan episode that I did. He is the president who proceeded Lincoln and is always the one who when historians make these lists of like best presidents, he always comes down at the very bottom. But I think we very rarely teach students about James Buchanan. But knowing what James Buchanan was like as president really helps us understand how we ended up in the civil war and why, up until Lincoln, we didn’t have a president who could sort of bind together this nation that was tearing apart at the seams and that’s immensely valuable for us to study.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. It really ties back to what you said, the quote earlier, if you can see backwards, you can also see forward and be better equipped.

Lillian Cunningham: Yeah. I guess another thing I would say just about teaching the presidency is that I think the study of the presidency, like so many things, it’s a reflection on our values today and it’s a chance for us to ask ourselves questions about like who we want to be as a nation.

And so, something that was so interesting was seeing how we’ve changed the way over time we’ve taught certain presidents. So, someone like Thomas Jefferson, or even Woodrow Wilson, these were men who were for a long time really in like the Pantheon of our best presidents.

And certainly, there are many people who still think so and many reasons to still think so. But in recent years, a number of teachers have decided to focus a lot more on issues of race and racism with those two men. And, they haven’t changed. They’ve been dead for quite some time.

But what has changed is our set of values and the questions that we as a society think are important to ask about these figures. I think that’s part of what’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity for teachers today is to say, ‘how do I use the presidency and how do I use these figures as a way to help engage young people in kind of thinking for themselves about like, okay, well, what standards do we want to hold people to when, when we think of them as great?

When we put statutes and monuments up for them in our nation’s Capital, like what standards do they need to meet? And it’s for each of us and all of us collectively to, to try to answer those questions and to come up with new ones and new standards that we hold people to in the future.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You know, I can hear our vice president of leadership development, Andrew Marshall, smiling right now. I don’t know if you can hear somebody smile, but I’m hearing him smile. I’m picturing it. So, he and the team have developed the Public Service Leadership Model. So just thinking through Lillian, how you’re saying how we teach leaders is different.

This model has in mind, you know, the competencies that leaders need to fulfill, but as a public service leader, it’s that really special stewardship of public trust and commitment to public good is what stands apart public service leaders, United States presidents, others, from leaders, and perhaps other industries that may not– depending on the industry– have to be thinking about all of these things.

So it’s, it resonates for me your words about what, you know, how are we viewing these leaders, right. Thinking as an individual what is your true north, what’s important, and what are your values and who do you want to be? I think that’s just all definitely something, for those thinking about entering public service, to keep in mind. And certainly, those every day who are doing the really hard work that they have front and center. So I appreciate that you brought that up.

We know that you, in addition to having your podcast presidential, you also did the podcast constitutional and “Moonrise” which covers public service from additional angles, but also focusing on enormous challenges that are in the public light. And the privilege that public service leaders have to be involved in such enormous projects.

Tell us the inspiration that you had for each of “Constitutional” and “Moonrise” and how you see these both weaving into this theme of public service leadership.

Lillian Cunningham: So, I think that, you know, doing presidential was such an incredible experience for me and I learned so much from it. But it did, of course, focus on just a single office and a single sort of pathway for people to affect change in this country. I was interested in taking some of the themes and the sort of heart of “Presidential,” which was sort of this question of progress as a nation and our arc and trajectory we’ve been on in this quest to form a more perfect union.

And so I sort of blew open the type of people I was, I was studying and profiling there to be, there were some sort of presidents, but I also looked at Supreme court justices and local leaders and, in some cases, you know what I would consider public service by people who don’t consider themselves public servants. Right? So, this sort of whole category of engaged citizens who are public servants in the sense that they, they just dedicated their lives to causes that advance the public good and that that’s served the betterment of the nation and they didn’t do it because that was their job, they did it just because they were extremely passionate or because they were, they were living out in injustice themselves and fighting for what they thought should be protected under the constitution.

And Then Moonrise was essentially this podcast about the space race, but instead of doing it through the lens of the astronauts, which I feel like is how often the space story is told, I really looked more from politics and public policy angle at, you know, who were the people who were, helping get this project off the ground and, pushing it through Congress?

There’s just, there’s so much, you could take sort of any story from American history and start peeling back the layers, and there’s so much to learn about kind of all of the people and all of the work that goes into these great, like leaps forward. And they aren’t always the people that we just immediately want to give the credit to.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right. And I’m sitting here smiling, I’m just listening to this. So many of the stories that Loren and I have been uncovering you hear from public servants time and again, ‘I had no idea when I was asked to do such and such that it would become this great thing.’ It will be the names that aren’t in the news and that nobody’s heard of. And it’s the unsung heroes, they’re realizing like, wow, you know, with this mandate I can do things I never even dreamed were possible. So I love hearing this about “Moonrise.”

Then with “Constitutional” it’s impossible to listen to you talk about it and not just know that this isn’t just history. Like this is today. This is outside.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Absolutely. This is every day. And it’s, it’s incredibly amazing and very relevant still.

Lillian Cunningham: Thank you. Yeah, I mean, it’s a great great job that I have to be able to tell these stories and to do the research and the reporting that then lets me do this and lets me talk to so many great people who actually, you know, do the work and have lived out these stories themselves.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us. We’re just so appreciative of everything that you’re doing. To really just shine that spotlight on all of these critical leadership lessons, human lessons. I loved what you said earlier about, you know, the human part of the presidents there’s the, the stories that we don’t even hear and they are also people too. Leaders are human, the good, the bad, the ugly, and it’s really important. So thank you so much for sharing.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: Rachel, I am so jealous of you getting to interview Lillian I loved the “Moonrise” podcast, and I’m so sad that I get to be a part of this incredible conversation. Tell me all about it. What were the high points?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So Loren I was also really excited. I have to say one of the points that I absolutely loved that Lillian shared and we were talking about: is it essential as a president to have a crisis to lead from? She actually said when she had spoken with Marcia McNutt from the United States Geological Survey, she had said it is easier to lead during a crisis. Lillian, thinking through and distilling all of these different interviews with researchers who she spoke with, and historians, she really came to this idea that it takes more skill to lead during a non-crisis.

When you’re going through maybe the slog of the day-to-day and trying to focus on long-term goals and policy, it’s just not as easy. In the heat of a crisis You have that thing to jump to it’s really clear. Everybody knows we have an immediate goal and you almost don’t even have to explain it and everyone just jumps to action. So not that it was necessary for a president to have a crisis to seal their legacy but that it does change their story in a way.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: That is such an incredible insight, and I think, just talking to people who work often in crisis situations, it is so familiar to me, just thinking through like my friends who are working in the national security space and my experience as myself. It is easier to motivate yourself to go to work, you know what your agenda is, you know what your tasks are for that day when there’s a crisis going on. It becomes… the perspective of it is clear the outcomes are clear you know what you’re doing.

When you’re not in a crisis, the scope of possibility is so large, and the the absence of a vision is so viscerally felt. I think that’s maybe the distinction between a good president who’s not leading in a crisis is when they come with a clear vision and stick to it and are very, very disciplined, they might still be able to work themselves up to that level of adrenaline. But that level of adrenaline is hard to build to in the absence of an urgent thing going on, what an amazing insight.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah absolutely that level of adrenaline like when we spoke to leaders who were there on 9/ 11 at the Pentagon. Or when you talk with the weather experts and what is their day job like versus in the midst of a massive hurricane? I do I think that adrenaline just propels you forward in a unique way, that when it’s missing you’re like, huh? As Lillian said, just another Monday. How do you lead through the Mondays?

Loren DeJogne Schulman: The other thing that is interesting about that is a phrase that we use often at the Partnership: what’s the ‘burning platform’ for doing this? What’s the burning platform to persuade people that some action needs to be taken? And I think you can find people who make their own burning platforms in public service a lot. It’s not that they’re creating crises, it’s that they can build that sort of momentum behind themselves and that that urgency and that crisis mindset by seeing the world from the perspective of wanting to do good and wanting to serve the public in some way.

So it’s less than I think that the the right takeaway is to go out and create a crisis– that’s obviously not helpful– but more to think of the outcomes you’re trying to pursue from a crisis mentality. How do I make sure that this is an urgent, necessary, action-driven moment for me, as opposed to one that is as you say just another Monday? In talking to so many of our interviewees we absolutely see that from them. They have that focus and that intent and I think that it’s not that it’s not possible outside of public service, but you do very much see it within the public service context.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah absolutely. The other huge takeaway, Loren, that I had from this conversation with Lillian, which is just staying with me, is that through all 44 of these podcasts, she says, “the study of the presidency can really be seen as a reflection on our values today.” We have this chance to ask who as a nation do we want to have as our leader? Our ideas of what constitutes a great president may be shifting from who we thought of historically, and who we see these monuments are constructed for that that might be very different now.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: Fascinating. Because this is a much more superficial corollary but, you look at who are the heroes of the silver screen who are like the big actions figure heroes that you see now versus ones you saw a hundred years ago in a very different kind of cinema at that point in time. They look different for one, but they also act different. Their challenges are different, and their mannerisms are different. Who we are looking to as the hero and the sort of ideal is not the same as it was a hundred years ago, which completely makes sense. In the same way, in a much more serious way, it makes sense that as a society our view around who it is we need to lead our nation would naturally change but probably also change in ways that we are uncomfortably not aware of as our as our values shift and as our needs shift as a country.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Even though Loren you said it’s a superficial comparison, I do find it very different now watching movies that I used to adore and love or thinking about heroes or even reading novels with this lens that I think Lillian has provided for me and for us, it is very hard to see some of those former heroes in the same way and maybe even some from not so long ago. Yes, absolutely translating that into the realm of leadership and public service. Really thinking more deeply about who do I want to represent me and my community?

Loren DeJogne Schulman: I think this is a great point to close on Rachel because it’s something that we talk about so much about at the Partnership, about the nature of leadership how public service leadership may or may not be different from other kinds of leadership. I think we need to add in this question of how is leadership changing? How are our expectations of it changing? How are the needs for it changing and how are our leaders coming to service from paths they may not may not have had 10, 20, 30 years ago? And those are all things that kind of pop up occasionally in conversation, but they definitely deserve more conversation as Lillian is tee-ing us up here. So again, I’m so jealous that I’ve missed this but I’m thrilled that you had this incredible conversation with her.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Thank you Loren. I definitely missed you being part of it but I appreciate getting to recap with you. Thank you so much.

Transition Music.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: So that’s our show. Thanks so much for listening If you haven’t already please follow or subscribe to profiles in public service wherever you get your podcasts

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You can also check this episode show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the partnership for public service on Twitter LinkedIn or Instagram to find out about future episodes

Loren DeJogne Schulman: Profiles in public service is created by the partnership for public service

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch

Loren DeJogne Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier. Thanks to District Productive for co-producing this episode of Profiles in Public Service.

Loren DeJogne Schulman: See you next time

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