Leadership is one of the most fascinating studies a person can undertake. You find people in specific situations, in nearly impossible circumstances, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. It takes truly remarkable people to step forward during times like that and put themselves into the fray.
Not all leaders are guiding nations through world wars or countries through the industrial revolution, many lead quietly and will not have books written about them or movies filmed recounting their lives.
Still, no matter the leader, whether famous, infamous, or reticent, there will always be one thing they have in common: challenges. And, as the job description goes, it falls on their shoulders to find solutions.
Leaders are by nature problem solvers and as luck would have it, according to a recent Huffington Post article, “good problem solvers are good thinkers. They have less drama and problems to begin with and don't get overly emotional when faced with a problem. They usually see problems as challenges and life experiences and try to stand above them, objectively.”
It means combining logic and intuition to find the best solutions and making good use of both sides of the brain to be “reasonably open minded but logically skeptical.”
Here are 10 practices of solid problem solvers, courtesy of the Huffington Post:
Google “leadership book” and you will find over three billion results. Leadership has been pivotal to the success of humanity and of modern civilization as we know it. Granted there are different schools of thought in leadership: are some leaders born with intrinsic motivation and traits that automatically make them more successful in leadership roles? Or are they simply more motivated to learn about human nature, motivating others, and learning about themselves in order to be the best versions of themselves and the best possible leaders? That debate is ongoing. What I am going to say is that it can’t hurt to study it, to absorb some of the wisdom from it and to apply some of the principles in the quest to be better leaders and better people.
r. John McDonald Pfiffner literally wrote the book on Public Administration. Originally written in 1935, his work was some of the first to appear on the topic. Dr. Pfiffner’s 650 page tour de force has served as a guidebook for people in the profession, with wisdom including the very foundation of what public administration actually is:
“Public administration consists of getting the work of the government done by coordinating the efforts of the people so that they can work together to accomplish their set tasks…managing, directing, and supervising the activities of thousands, even millions of workers so that some order and efficiency may result from their efforts.”
To this day, those in the profession look at the guidestones he created as they embark on exciting public administration careers, set to innovate within the private sector, academia, and the political realm. There are myriad duties of which they are charged, including social justice and pursuing equality, supporting economic growth and industry, promoting sustainability and environmental protections, and obviously improving educational systems and healthcare.
Their influence is felt across areas of civil service, but one new key area that is receiving increased attention from public administration—and an area that Dr. Pfiffner couldn’t have anticipated—is environmental management.
What is environmental management?
Otherwise known as environmental resource management, at the most basic level, it is management of the interactions of humans in their environments. When a system is created, it establishes a framework in which an organisation can achieve its environmental goals through “consistent review, evaluation, and improvement of its environmental performance,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The belief is that continuous review will help identify places for improving and implementing the environmental performance.
Both cost-effective and proactive, the approach addresses regulatory requirements that benefit the safety and health of employees and the public.
“An EMS can also help address non-regulated issues, such as energy conservation, and can promote stronger operational control and employee stewardship,” according to the EPA website.
Basic Elements of an EMS include the following:
The Canadian way
In Canada, layers of powers and protections are built into each level of government to safeguard the environment. This arrangement of environmental jurisdiction demands collaboration and cooperation between federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments.
At the foundation of this is the legislative framework for preserving the Canadian Environment and human health: the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). First and foremost CEPA 1999 helps prevent and manage risks presented by toxins and other harmful substances, and also manages human and environmental health with regard to biotechnology, marine pollution, disposal at sea, equipment emissions, fuels, hazardous wastes, pollution and other environmental emergencies.
“The Minister of the Environment is accountable to Parliament for the administration of all of CEPA 1999. Both the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health jointly administer the task of assessing and managing the risks associated with toxic substances,” according to the government website. “Efforts taken under CEPA 1999 are complemented by actions taken under other federal acts administered by the Minister of the Environment.”
For example, The Fisheries Act that is administered by the Minister of the Environment on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, also has provisions to prevent pollution of waters inhabited by fish. Through the Canada Water Act, water resources and environmental quality of that water are managed.
“The Minister of the Environment also manages some aspects of wildlife through the Species at Risk Act, the Canada Wildlife Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act,” according to the website.
Additionally, efforts under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act ensure that the environmental effects of projects are painstakingly reviewed before action is taken, in order to safeguard against adverse environmental effects.
Dr. Pfiffner couldn’t have anticipated the widespread impact of humankind on the natural environment in the 1930s. Environmental disasters were not yet prevalent, and climate change was not a part of common vernacular. Though his book is brilliant in many ways, civil servants in public administration need to be educated about the most pressing current issues, particularly the ones that are going to be troublesome in the future.
Ask anyone in government or business and they will tell you: collaboration is key; it may be THE key. Few people in the world get to hole themselves away and dodge human interaction. Few people would want to do such a thing. Humans are meant for groups. We are meant to learn from each other and evolve together; to create the greatest ideas to solve the world’s biggest problems. Great things happen because of great teams who have learned to work together. Maybe it’s not rocket science, but the practice of it can sometimes be difficult, particularly when someone is leading such efforts. Collaboration is not tossing a loosely assembled group and making them sit in a room until they figure it out. It requires more direction, more intention, more introspection and better communication. In fact, some argue there are rules that must be followed.
Here are the rules as explained in an Inc. article, with concepts courtesy of Richard Watkins, of Let's Go, who has strived for years to crack the code on collaboration:
1. Find alignment
It is important to dive into the nitty gritty. This helps ensure everyone on the team knows why facing the challenge is important as well as the opportunities that will be created.
“It's about getting people aligned and excited as to why it's even worth the hassle of going after,” according to the article. Help the team understand what is at stake if you don’t put forth the effort. As the article notes, sometimes “the cost of inaction” can be a better motivator than the possible rewards.
2. Create Structure
Collaboration needs to be strategic. It needs structure in the form of clear leadership to direct the process and own the output.
“Without this foundation in place, collaboration is destined to fail,” according to the article. “Collaboration done right has tight parameters around scope, what resources are ready to be deployed and a clear understanding of who will drive the work forward after a solution is reached.”
An established plan more easily turns strategy into action. Having a plan will help the team better commit and contribute to a project.
3. Make it diverse
Forget politics and consider perspectives, according to the article. Who will help unlock the challenge and find the solution? Diverse minds working on a complex challenge will provide more insight. Perspectives from outside the organisation can prove particularly helpful.
4. Be active
There must be momentum behind the effort, an active mindset to quickly transition from strategy to action. This is about transparency with regard to progress, outlining how success will be measured and how teams will know when to alter course.
5. Be human
Collaboration needs tending. It demands patience, nurturing and proactive assessments. As Watkins notes in his book: humans accomplish the most in groups. Collaboration should be embraced, not feared. Cultivate the ‘soft skills’ required for collaborative meetings. These are the building blocks that make groups resilient and bolster the camaraderie and commitment necessary to get past significant challenges.
The rules make sense. Collaboration means human interaction and that means that we need to continually cultivate the soft skills that make it possible (and enjoyable) to work together. It means transparency and not bending to politics, creating tangible results from a strategic approach and navigating the challenges any organisation faces bravely, together. These rules are simple in concept but require continual self-improvement and group camaraderie to facilitate success. Embrace other perspectives, help each other out, find the rewards of doing a job well done and never stop improving: as an organisation and as a person.
At cursory glance, public and private administration seem similar, but a closer look reveals stark contrasts. For starters, they have completely different goals, modes of operation, approaches, revenue sources, accountability, and orientations.
In broad strokes, a public-facing administration manages resources provided by tax revenue and government initiatives to maintain the infrastructure, social community, police force, etc. In contrast, private administration does not answer to the public, but shareholders, and seeks to generate profit— its approach is one emphasising continued growth. As an enterprise based primarily on revenue, this gives it a much narrower frame of focus, and one that can prove beneficial.
While it may seem natural to compare and contrast them and not delve deeper, it is wise to view both from the lens of learning: What can the public sector learn from the private sector and vice versa?
Innovation is important across the board
Management in the private sector has the constant and unyielding onus of trying to generate profit. If successful, this is often beneficial for shareholders and employees. A private corporation needs monetary gains not just to encourage higher growth margins and salary, but also to survive. This constant struggle to generate increased revenue can lead to ground-breaking solutions that breed efficiency and optimization.
The public sector functions differently, dependent upon revenue that is often generated through taxation. Public operations are often urged toward innovation in a different way, because they have to work within the constraints of a budget they often have little control over. Carefully planning and managing budgets and deficits become paramount for a different reason.
One is nimble, the other transparent
In a private venture, the administrator answers to stockholders, not the general public. In doing so, transparency in all dealings can sometimes be murky, as quick action is required for the best outcome with regard to competitors. Lighter governance can equal faster response time when challenges are presented, but as in all things it can be misused. It is important for those in the private sector to maintain steady communication with compliance specialists within their companies, so they can avoid any pitfalls that swift decisions may create.
The public sector is constantly adhering to governance. Compliance paperwork, although quite relevant to the private sector, is mandatory and nearly constant in the public realm. This heightened focus on compliance means that work done in the public sector can become bogged-down with regulatory pressures and a long approval process. Still, accountability is at the forefront of public sector dealings.
Applying the nimbleness and urgency found in private administration to public-facing administrations can produce a remarkably positive result. Public council members that are trained to tackle problems in the same way that private board members do might lead to optimization in public office, and can prove beneficial for the welfare of its relative community.
Where the private sector has room for greater transparency with stockholders and employees, leadership in the public sector has the opportunity to streamline processes so that change is not quite so incremental, while also maintaining a high level of transparency.
A narrowed scope means greater focus
Public administration requires the balancing of multiple issues at the same time. A budget is developed based on the needs of the local community that must serve it in all aspects. The goal is not profit but societal welfare, and that welfare requires approaching challenges from different angles. The sheer scope of demands can prove challenging. The solution can be taken from a page out of the private administration playbook.
Private administration has an incredibly narrowed scope. Two major goals in private administration are connected – shareholder satisfaction and profits.
Public administration must continually account for the welfare of its citizens, which requires depth and breadth to accomplish. However, strategically adopting a situationally (and temporarily) narrowed scope can mean a better response for pressing matters. Just like focusing a lens for a phone: zoom in and then zoom out again in order to cover necessary bases. For example, making the top priority balancing a deficit and turning it into a surplus both fixes the problem faster and allows for additional funds with which to target other issues.
Both public and private administration are laudable professions with strengths and weaknesses. Applying wisdom from both schools of thought can lead to remarkable insight, innovation and progress.
David Barrick is an experienced public administrator within the Greater Toronto Region. For the past 16 years, he has been employed in numerous positions focused on both public and private-facing administration.Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.