Teaching humility and service at the Kennedy School
What leadership qualities are you looking for in your Kennedy School of Government graduate students?
We look for real evidence that people care about the public interest and have been engaged in public service. Harvard Kennedy School is a place where our hope and expectation is that our students will be exceptional public leaders. We want to keep the focus on making the world a better place. That is really at the heart and soul of service to me.
How do you educate your students about federal service?
I talk about values, commitment and focusing on the public interest. That's the special glue that holds together a place like the Kennedy School. We come from all over the world, but our common denominator is a shared commitment to making the world a better place, whether through federal service or in another context.
There's one other thing that's hard to teach, but I preach it a lot. That is, in the end, have some humility. It can be difficult, Washington and Harvard are not known for their humility. But the best public servants remember that they serve the public and that requires a capacity to listen and believe that there are a range of ideas out there that you've got to hear.
What are the obstacles to attracting a new generation of public servants?
A lot depends on the way the federal government recruits. The Kennedy School recently led a roundtable examining federal hiring practices, a discussion that included the head of the Office of Personnel Management, the head of human resources for Google, the head of recruiting for General Electric and the head of diversity for IBM, and many others. What we learned is that the best organizations looking to find superb people do it quickly [and] involve the senior leadership personally. But in the federal government quickly and personally is just not how hiring has traditionally been done.
People who enter the federal workforce want to be in situations where their ideas and talent allow them to rise and make a difference rapidly. They don't expect special treatment, but when they work hard and do well, they'd like to be able to move up, make a difference and have real influence. Sometimes the bureaucracy can be, well, bureaucratic.
What did you learn about leadership working in the federal government?
I learned a lot about leadership watching Donna Shalala, Bill Clinton's former secretary of Health and Human Services. She was always upbeat, inspirational and believed we could find a way to move forward on our priorities. She was extremely loyal to her people. There was a period during which some members of Congress were troubled by the direction welfare reform was going, and they started attacking a number of us quite personally. Donna quietly went behind-the-scenes and took on a powerful member of Congress and said, "You can talk about me that way, but you don't treat my people that way." It was a great lesson on simple leadership and loyalty, and it created for me a sense that this is someone who I'm willing to really go to bat for, because she was willing to stand up for me.
Who is your leadership role model and what lessons do you take away from their example?
The first real job I had I worked in a small government consulting firm, and the woman I worked for was terrific. She's now my wife [and] still my boss. I like to say that I've been happily married for over 30 years because I knew who the boss was from day one. As a leader, she thought hard about each individual she worked with, their innate capacities, and how she could draw on those. And she was generous with her praise, but straightforward when people didn't measure up. She was a great manager.
Government leaders, mark your calendars for September 1st! In just three weeks the Partnership for Public Service will be releasing its highly-anticipated 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. An important tool for federal leaders, the rankings are the most comprehensive and authoritative rating and analysis of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government. Agency leaders use the BPTW rankings in their recruitment and retention efforts, as well as to provide managers and leaders with a road-map for boosting employee engagement. To learn more, visit bestplacestowork.org.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: joesmithdefend | August 13, 2010 8:58 AM
Posted by: dozas | August 13, 2010 1:08 AM
Posted by: win_harrington | August 12, 2010 12:06 PM
Posted by: Gonzage1 | August 11, 2010 12:25 PM
Posted by: klassylady25 | August 11, 2010 11:32 AM
Posted by: bogemin | August 11, 2010 11:06 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.