Meeting the modern leadership challenge

By Jo Miller | 20 September 2017

At Solace Scotland last week, with colleagues who are just now entering a world with a lot less money across  public services, I said that now more than ever we needed bold and brave leaders, willing to take risks, to disrupt the status quo to deliver for residents in these straitened times.

That requires a different type of leadership to that which sufficed in the past. Command and control just doesn't do it anymore (other than in Returning Officer mode), new leadership requires collaboration and connection for the sake of our communities. My Solace colleagues Deborah Cadman and Becky Shaw are leading excellent work on this. 

Leadership is not binary and the old adages of politicians lead, officers manage, politicians do good news, officers do bad news are not fit for the era we are in. Leadership is a shared space, with different but complementary roles And context is everything. 21st century public service .

I have been vocal on these pages for example on welfare reform. Not in the sense of the Government’s right to do it - of course they are able to - but vocal about some of the unintended consequences of those policies as they impact in the community I serve.

Is that appropriate for a chief executive? In my context, yes - because the Mayor is keen for the impact of those policies to be understood across our place by all of our partners so that we can mitigate the worst effects. She is similarly keen that local government come up with better answers to the problem that's trying to be fixed. Political? I don't think so. Appropriate? Absolutely - context is everything .

They say it takes a village to raise a child. And so it does. And it's going to take all of our towns and villages and cities to connect better to make the most of scarce public resources to innovate at scale to deliver for the people we serve. That means using the soft power of convening with public sector partners at place level, and the humility to listen and recognise there is no monopoly on good ideas across wider spatial geography.

It's not a case of 'I'm the biggest, follow me and you will do well', but rather, a collective discussion about the problems to be solved, a bringing of resources to the table to contribute to solutions and  the sharing  of rewards. Inevitably, this may result in clashes with those who wish to preserve what is, rather than lead for the future. Or there may be discord across geographies arising from different objectives. Nothing will be achieved by acrimony and attack, and we have seen some unfortunate examples of that over the summer.

So, let's meet the modern leadership challenge head on. A shared leadership space, with different but complementary roles and let us recognise that context is everything - different  from place to place.  Let us connect and collaborate for the benefit of our communities. Nothing less will do in these challenging times.

Jo Miller is president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

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