Business Times

Leadership challenges for government organisations, state corporations

By Gamini Jayaweera

During this crucial Presidential election campaign both main candidates have presented their visions and policies to create a democratic, sovereign, modern and peaceful Sri Lanka by the advancement of social, cultural, economical, and technological developments.

Both candidates have also promised to develop a robust programme to implement radical reforms in the government sector to ensure that the desired developments can take place during the coming six years to fulfil their grand visions. I firmly believe that both candidates are honest in their expectations to achieve their desired goals. If we cast our cool and sceptical eyes over the achievements of the last three to four decades by our past rulers and examine why we could not achieve the promised developments, we may find quite a few reasons for our failures. In this article I will discuss the lack of quality leadership in the state sector organisations including corporations as one of the key hindrances to the successful development of our country.

It is quite evident in the past three to four decades that the appointments of most of the leaders to these institutions have been made not necessarily on the basis of their true leadership qualities but on their political relationships with the ruling party. If both leading presidential candidates are genuinely serious about achieving their visions, then it is a right time to abandon this short-sighted policy of appointments based on political acumen which has resulted in huge losses in some corporations and inefficient management of government institutions at the expense of tax payers’ money. It is refreshing to hear from the current President that he acknowledges the fact that he has appointed some unsuitable candidates for certain responsible positions and he expects to reverse those appointments.

I hope that both leading presidential candidates will give a prominent place to the appointment of leaders in the government institutions based on their true leadership qualities to run these organisations in a most economic and efficient manner. So let us discuss what leadership qualities these leaders should have and what changes they should implement to run these organisations to the satisfaction of the stakeholders.

It is an inherent problem that the leaders, managers and the workforce in the government sector always believe that these institutions do not have to function as commercial organisations as the government will step into bailout them from the tax payers’ money when they are in financial difficulties.

The leadership of these organisations must change their mindsets to recognise the fact that the non-profit organisations can also function economically and efficiently for the benefit of the general public and the department of Treasury. The leadership must also take an active role to implement policies to change the mindsets of their managers and workforce to recognise the concept of economic and efficient running of all government sector organisations and corporations.

I believe that the changes in leadership behaviour are critical to improving the performance of the workforce either in public or private sector organisations. Behaviour is what people do and say daily, and it is the foundation for performance. The leaders can impact their employees’ behaviours and create excellent business results. Leaders do lot of hard work such as creating a Vision, communicating the Strategic Direction, setting up Organisation and Team Structures, defining jobs etc., but they often forget to focus on behaviour. True quality Leadership can create long-term sustainable performance driven organisations by concentrating on coaching and behaviour analysis of their workforce.

Direction must come from the leadership to clearly define the focus and priorities and to align the efforts of all employees to ensure what is expected from each member of the staff. Lack of direction from the leadership will create “chaos” in the work place. It is a fact that vast numbers of employees in these organisations are technically competent and they may also have the access to necessary materials, tools and technology to perform the tasks. If that is the case one might ask the question why these organisations are not performing in an economic and efficient manner. It appears that currently, the Sri Lankan general public are experiencing “chaos” in significant number of public sector organisations due to poor leadership and not advocating a clear direction to their workforce.

The other very important quality of a leader is to have the ability to motivate his workforce. Motivation has been defined as the effective use of consequences, creating an environment where people want to, rather than have to, perform at high levels. Clear expectations of performance, measures to assess performance, provision of feedback on performance and delivery consequences should be in place to support motivation. True quality leadership should have the ability to both inspire the workforce through their visions and impart the technical skills.

It appears that most of our current leaders in the public sector organisations are autocratic and they have primarily based their leadership styles on more telling than listening to their subordinates. As Peter Drucker said that in the 20th century great leaders gave great answers but in the 21st century great leaders will ask great questions. There is no doubt that most of these leaders invest a lot of time and energy trying to do things right. But as Bennis and Nanus, (1985) point out the managers do things right whereas the leaders do right things. I believe that in order to motivate the workforce and sustain the performance levels required in the long-run to satisfy the stakeholders, the leaders must implement tasks at the behavioural level and manage the performance of the team to make it all work.

The culture of an organisation is related to its people, their behaviour and the operation of the organisational structure. Culture of the organisation is the heart of all strategy creation and implementation. Until we understand the culture of an organisation, we cannot understand the strategic management in that organisation. It is apparent that the successful introductions of new strategic directions require changes to culture of these organisations and the attitudes and behaviours of the employees. This can be achieved by working very closely with the workforce, early and effective communication, and introduction of various reward and recognition schemes, to motivate the employees. This will also involve in team building exercises, training and open communication to educate all employees to align with the common behavioural culture of the organisation. The traditional “blame culture” should be avoided and mistakes must be regarded as part and parcel of the learning curve.

The following diagram indicates how the leaders in these organisations should change their mindsets and behaviours to move away from Direct Control leadership to a more participative type leadership.
The new leadership dimensions developed by Dulewicz and Higgs, (2004) combines the Social and Emotional elements (EQ), Cognitive elements (IQ) and Managerial elements (MQ) to do the right things to the highest quality and to achieve the required level of leadership performance. Leadership at different levels should adopt these dimensions to ensure that they achieve the leadership performance required by the stakeholders as shown below. I do not go into detail explanation of this new style of leadership but I suggest that the leadership dimensions developed by Dulewicz and Higgs, (2004) should be used by individual leaders to evaluate their leadership strengths and weaknesses.

The key leadership challenges facing leaders to successfully achieve these challenges are to inspire, motivate and influence the workforce of these organisations recognising the environment in which they have to operate.

I sincerely hope that the contents of this article will give our leaders in the public sector organisations including state owned corporations a better understanding of why leaders spent a lot of time and energy in doing the right things. I have no doubt that to lead effectively, leaders need to find ways to engage people and generate their excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment because its people that hit targets, beat budgets, improve quality and deliver outputs. Identification and development of the leadership dimensions which we have briefly discussed in this article are critical to leaders who are willing to accept and adapt to the changing environment. I believe that some people are born natural leaders but those who want to be leaders can also develop leadership dimensions.

The incorporation of EQ, IQ and MQ in to the new style of leadership model by Dulewicz and Higgs, (2004) recognises the very important contribution of social and emotional elements of the leadership dimensions required for directing and motivating the workforce in achieving better performance. As Goleman, (2002) points out “Emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ and technical skills. The higher up the organisation you go, the more important emotional intelligence becomes.” But EQ is not the only attribute needed for effective leadership but certainly it is a very important aspect of leadership.

Unless the leadership of these organisations develop and implement the change of attitude to the way we run our public sector organisations including corporations the vision of achieving economic, social and technological development will not become a reality and it will remain as a dream for a very long time. I conclude this article with the famous quotation by Charles Darwin. “The Species that survived were not the most intelligent; they were the most adaptable to Change.”

(The writer is currently working as a Senior Project Controls Manager at Tube Lines Ltd in the UK who is engaged in a Public Private Partnership contract to improve the infrastructure of London Underground. He has worked both in public and private sector organisations in England for nearly 35 years gaining vast amount of experience in Project Controls and Implementation of Six Sigma methodology to deliver projects in most economic and efficient manner. He is a Fellow of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and last year at the age of 62, he graduated as a Master of Business Administration from Henley Management College at Oxford. )

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