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Give the public sector the leadership it deserves
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Public & Social Profit

Give the public sector the leadership it deserves

"Two feet on the ground, getting people moving. Not waiting for the mandate. Daring to look in the mirror every day. Not the leadership but the effect."

These are some testimonies about leadership from the participants of the AMS Masterclass Leadership for the public and social profit sector. Throughout the course, they took the step from "socialized" to "self-authoring": from using social leadership benchmarks to developing their own definition about what is needed and appropriate. A crucial step toward the leaders the public sector needs to properly address today's many challenges.
Koen Marichal
by Koen Marichal | December 10, 2021
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"How many of you are leaders?" Most hands go up in the air. "How many of you consider yourselves leaders?" A few hesitant hands. That's the starting point. Many public sector managers work in larger organizations with mostly hierarchical and bureaucratic rules of the game. Leadership then quickly narrows to leading and having power. Some are somewhat anxious about this and disqualify themselves as leaders. Others lead, but with great uncertainty; they do not see themselves as leaders either. And still others feel like a fish out of water. Although they too do not easily see themselves as leaders, because leaders "do extraordinary things."

That was the situation before the leadership track. At the end of the track, participants testify to the path taken and their claim as leaders. Many began their pitch with "before I started the path I didn't see myself as a leader." The testimonies continued with statements such as "I discovered that I can also show leadership. In my own way." Or, "Leadership is still something completely different from being the boss." These statements show that participants have moved from "socialized" to "self-authoring," as it is called in science.

From socialized to self-authoring

'Socialized' means judging and behaving yourself according to general, social standards. In a self-managing organization, 'socialized' stands for: "How much initiative do I take myself as a leader and how autonomously do I behave?". In a hierarchy, the social measure of leadership is the amount of power you have. So you see yourself as a leader as a function of how much power you have. This is a root cause of the leadership crisis: looking upward for solace, complaining when that leadership proves unhelpful, but not crossing the threshold of leadership yourself.

'Self-authoring' means developing your own definition for what is needed and 'proper'. In a hierarchy, that may be to step into leadership more from personal power. In a self-managing organization, it’s the opposite: to define roles and responsibilities more clearly.

Bottomline is to develop a line of conduct about how you want to mean something to (groups of) other people and why. From the given context and a lot of realism. This is far from being true to your true self. Good luck with that, by the way, because we are a multitude of selves. It's more constructive to see yourself as an ecosystem of interests, needs, desires and wants that you have to curate, rather than as a closed, fixed identity that you want to maintain or live up to. 'Self-authoring' means making choices and acting more self-consciously.

Authentic, lived leadership

And just let such authentic, lived leadership be particularly high on the agenda today, especially in the public sector. The learning deficit of young people, the waiting lists in health care, the struggle for survival in the cultural sector, the political coercion versus the administration, rising poverty and economic inequality, polarization: it all comes to the plate of leaders of schools, hospitals, cultural institutions and others.

Handling areas of tension, nurturing valuable practices, activating networks, developing future prospects, standing up to nonsense, treating citizens transparently and fairly: these are all manifestations of leadership needed today. It is work that requires and deserves more leadership than the classic leadership from a position of power.

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