I am aware of the change that is occurring in government as heads of departments are reaching the age of retirement. I seem to receive more and more invitations to retirement parties for individuals who have served county or city government for many decades. I am mindful of the contributions that many of these individuals have made to improve our public systems, and I am also keenly aware of both the challenge and the opportunity that their departures create.
Unlike private sector organizations, few government organizations are in the habit of undertaking succession planning. As a result, there are few systems in place to capture the institutional memory that so many of these leaders will take with them upon retirement. It is highly unlikely that the next person to fill the position will have the opportunity for any type of job overlap with the person who is retiring. In fact, the position may be vacant for months until a search is completed for the next department head. New leadership enters often without a thoughtful and well-articulated plan in place for how to undertake their role. This does not happen everywhere but is more often the norm than the exception.
The fast paced changes that are happening in most government organizations as a result of Federal and State policies and structural funding changes make this situation less than desirable. The fact that we will be welcoming new leaders into organizations that are having to cope with lots of change is very challenging.
The opportunity lies in the fact that many new public sector leaders are apt to see their roles as leaders differently. They will most likely be younger, have grown up in a different age, and been educated under the influence of schools of thought promoting evidence based practices, data driven decision making and new ideas regarding what constitutes high quality leadership and management. They may have different expectations for themselves and their organizations. They may wish to rethink what the role of government agencies can be in meeting the needs of our communities. As they are taking their seats at the public sector table we have an opportunity to ask the question “what constitutes positive leadership in government organizations in the 21st Century?”