The world, as we all know, faces a massive leadership deficit (see video below). This has become painfully clear in recent weeks across the Arab world, but has long been the case. Faced with crisis in issues of health, income disparity and climate change (to name a few) we now need great leadership more than ever.

At the same time, the pull of the private sector and frustrations with the inability of government to effect change has caused many of the world’s best and brightest to avoid serving in positions of public office. The world is a lesser place for it.

For more than a year now, I have been involved in an initiative done in association with the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders to find ways of encouraging better public leadership. Our small group of six has now raised the issue for discussion in small groups that have included presidents and ministers from several nations, as well as high profile executives from major corporations.

Our efforts at tackling the issue were noticed by PwC, who have sponsored a number of events including gatherings at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos.

PwC also worked with us to prepare the paper below on the issue that appears below the video.

Tackling the World’s Leadership Deficit

Conventional wisdom has it that today’s best and brightest shun public service to seek better-compensated and more exciting opportunities in the private sector. But a worldwide survey of Young Global Leaders (YGLs) conducted on behalf of the World Economic Forum found that many if not most of these talented individuals would like to work in public service if career paths in government were better aligned with today’s fast-changing knowledge economies.

In PwC’s 14th Annual Global CEO Survey, private sector leaders from 69 countries signalled their relentless focus on talent: the availability of key skills is their second greatest concern after economic volatility. They’re changing their people strategies in multiple ways to address that concern.

But the world’s public sectors are non-combatants in the war for talent. So the challenge to the public sector is clear: governments must rapidly adopt private sector best practices in recruitment, retention, leadership and talent management. The public sector must also embrace social media, portfolio careers, project teams and other workplace developments that a younger generation assumes and expects.

We’ve developed this paper to spark dialogue on workforce issues common to governments worldwide. Through a review of literature and interviews with select leaders with experience in both public and private sectors, we hope to initiate conversation on:

• How governments can maintain their competitiveness in the war for talent
• How private sector leaders can (and should) assist their public sector peers
• How aspiring leaders can prepare themselves for public service

Competing for talent
Today’s governments must learn how to compete in a lightning-fast labour market where qualified job seekers have many choices, and boring or slow employers cannot compete. Above all, government agencies need to market the unique reward of a public service career – the chance to work in an organisation that makes an identifiable difference in people’s lives. That’s already the perception in countries such as Singapore and Norway, where the government is viewed as a source of innovation in society.
Potential hires understand this. Of the more than 300 Young Global Leaders who participated in the YGL survey – from more than 65 countries – 76 percent said they would consider a position in public office. A leadership position in public service is attractive to many of these highly motivated and talented young people because it offers the opportunity to make a difference and contribute to social change.

But less than 5 percent are currently engaged in public office, and just over 10 percent said they had previously held public sector positions. Why so few? Respondents said that they are deterred from entering the public sector due to the high level of bureaucracy; lack of a true meritocracy; insufficient work-life balance; low financial compensation; widespread fraud and corruption; and constant public scrutiny including media exposure.

Overcoming this challenge, in particular addressing the perception that public sector work is dull and bureaucratic, will require a sea change in how government agencies strategise and operate. The workplace itself is a key driver behind those perceptions; governments might have to change not only their recruitment and retention practices, but also their fundamental operations, if they want to be more attractive to the best and the brightest.

Consider, for example:
• High-potential leaders are drawn to environments where managers have more authority, including the ability to announce vacancies, recruit and screen candidates, decide who are best qualified, interview, and negotiate salary and conditions. That is usually the case in the private sector, but represents a shift in the regimented approach to human resources of many public sectors.
• Young recruits are drawn to roles that allow them to make creative contributions. In the private sector, that often means pairing Baby Boomers with Millennial generation workers to combine the knowledge of experienced workers with the energy and technology capabilities of younger workers.
• While pay is a consideration, it is by no means the only concern for leaders entering public service. Government employers can attract and retain hires by providing appropriate recognition for contributions, offering flexible work hours, and promoting a better work/life balance than their private sector counterparts.
• Governments that seek the best of today’s young leaders must embrace social media and other Web 2.0 tools that the private sector already employs. A generation weaned on Facebook and Twitter does not look for career opportunities in the classified ads or willingly sit for antiquated civil service exams.
• Public sector employers must provide a visible path to promotion and on-the-job mentoring, because young people today expect to move upwards quickly – or move on.
• Similarly, many Young Global Leaders also stressed the need for an easier path between the public and private sectors, so that a career could more easily encompass meaningful assignments in both spheres. While there have been cases where the relationships between business and government have been criticised as too cozy, it is possible to structure secondments with adequate accountability to avoid conflicts of interest. Many more leaders would bring their skills to public service if they saw a secure path back to their established careers. And public service gives a leader knowledge and experience that can benefit future employers at both commercial enterprises and NGOs.

Snapshots of high-performers
Conversations with a few Young Global Leaders and other high performers reveal a wealth of ideas and proposals to help the government agencies around the world that are facing the reality that they need to attract and retain key talent in the decades to come. Below are a few excerpts, edited for clarity, that explain the barriers they experienced, ideas for governments, and advice for aspiring individuals.

Today, Leslie Maasdorp is president of Bank of America Merrill Lynch – Southern Africa. Prior to the repeal of apartheid in 1993, he was active in the African National Congress, for which he was jailed for a year and a half without trial. After multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, he joined the new government, where he became special advisor to the Minister of Labour. While he was thrilled to work in the administration of Nelson Mandela and by the opportunity to make a real difference, he was frustrated by hierarchy and protocol.

To me the public sector was an incredible learning platform. The exposure and experience that I gained during that period was just phenomenal. The first big plus was the feeling I could have an impact on a macro scale. The satisfaction that goes with that, money does not come into the equation. You know you’re part of history.

Why did I leave? The institutional sclerosis. The wheels turn so slowly, and you deal with large pockets that you can’t really do anything about.

I don’t think the government is doing enough right now to attract people into public service. It’s just too attractive for youngsters out of good schools to go work for Goldman Sachs and so on, where you get very intense training with proper mentors, which was totally lacking in public service when I was there. If you really want to create people devoted to government work for the long term, you need to give them exposure to a few areas before they settle into their job. Let them see the bigger picture, how the different pieces have to work together.

As a member of the Canadian parliament, Scott Brison represents Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia. He is a key Liberal Party spokesperson on economic issues and currently serves in the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet as the liberal party critic for finance. He served as minister of public works and government services, and receiver general of Canada, from 2004 to 2006, as the youngest member of Prime Minister Paul Martin’s cabinet.

Brison also has had extensive private sector experience ranging from business start-ups and US market development to serving as vice president of a Canadian investment bank.

The most important issue, when I ask people to enter public life on the political side, is that people will enter government if they think they can make a difference. They have to know that. You can convince somebody to leave the private sector and take a personal and financial sacrifice and give up their privacy – you can get good people to do that if they think they can make a difference. That means the system must be functional.

I’ve sat in five parliaments, since 1997. I’ve sat in functional parliaments and dysfunctional parliaments. The current parliament in Canada is very partisan and divisive, so it’s difficult to make a case that you can get anything done. The US Congress in the last two years has been similarly paralysed. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, because if all of the good people sit on the sidelines waiting for Congress to become less divisive and more functional, the more remote are the chances of that happening.

We also need to do a better job enabling people to move from the private sector into public life and back. Companies, universities and NGOs need to view political life as important to the country and the planet, and make it possible for people to take a period away from their careers and then welcome them back to continue their career trajectory.

I tell young people, ‘Work very hard and build some success, and at the same time, become part of your community. Carve out some time to serve on your local school board or as a volunteer.’ I think it’s very important for people even quite early in their private sector career to establish a habit or an ethic of volunteerism.

Life in government can be frustrating as hell sometimes, but you can make a difference some days. It’s up to people like me to convince people who are bright and talented. It’s fine to say the system is broken, but that’s the easy way out. If you’re serious about the system getting fixed, then get in there and fix it.

Pierre-Olivier Bouée is managing director, office of the chief executive, at Prudential plc in London. After graduating from the École Nationale d’Administration, one of the prestigious French graduate schools entrusted with the selection and initial training of senior French officials, he joined the Treasury Department. He served in the French government for six years, but was frustrated by the pace of progress towards meaningful outcomes, and lack of opportunity for advancement.

I joined the Treasury because I was keen to work on financial matters. I was very keen to bring my contribution to changing France. But then as soon as you start seeing the reality from the inside, you realise that change is not that simple. It’s like moving a big elephant.

In Treasury I had exposure to very good people and very bad people. But there is no differentiating people based on performance. You see colleagues who aren’t that effective but it doesn’t affect their pay or their career prospects. So you progressively think ‘I’d be better off doing something different’.

For France, improving government service is about flexibility. Don’t rank people; prepare them to sell themselves to the different civil services based on their skills. It’s a market. The civil service should operate as much like a private company as possible.

I also think we need to build more bridges between the private and public sectors. Can you give me a role model, someone in civil service anywhere, and say, ‘I want to work for him or her’? There are people like that, fantastic leaders, who don’t work for the money, they work for the good of others. There were a few in France, that’s why I went to civil service.

You don’t need to pay people outrageously. There will always be people who want to make lots of money, but you don’t want them. You want people who really want to do a service.

I was trained by the civil service, so I am very keen to give back at some point. But the government has to find a way. There has to be someone who I would see as a role model who could say, come, and we will make a difference.

In December, the government of Mongolia named Gankhuyag Chuulum, a former executive director of XacBank and now director of Tenger Financing Group, as the new deputy minister of finance. Gankhuyag has also been economic policy advisor of the Prime Minister since January 2009. This appointment marks a return to government work for Gankhuyag, who earlier worked as controller of commerce in the Mongolian Stock Exchange and as controller and state inspector in the Bank of Mongolia, before becoming an entrepreneur.

When I was called to serve, as a citizen, I thought, ‘I have to get involved to help these guys connect the dots, as it relates to efficiency, populism, all these things the government is criticised for.’ We are a democratic country and we have to do a lot of things for the economy to stand on its feet. Financially, I’m independent so I took this opportunity when the Prime Minister called me. I slept on it a while, but he didn’t have to call me three times.

Both of my formal first jobs, in 1991 and 1997, were government jobs. Both were one year assignments, because I got dissatisfied in these jobs after a year. Being in a junior position in government is not very fulfilling, especially for an entrepreneurial person. You are part of a big machine and people treat you as they want. You are not a decision maker. You have to have patience to make your way up through the ranks, and I was not that type. Also in an emerging country like Mongolia, public service does not pay well. You have to survive. As a vice minister I get paid about US$ 500/month.

But because I spent the last 12 years in the private sector, at one of the most dynamic institutions in Mongolia, I saw myself as an inspiration and a demonstration for how young people could come into the government and make a difference.

After just one month at the new job, I have been able to inspire people to become open, to start using Facebook and Twitter, and I discuss things openly with people who report to me. Now that I am in a high-level position, I am much more satisfied than before. There is a feeling of real power to effect changes, and to help the leadership of the country steer in the right direction, faster and more efficiently.

In September, Jitesh Gadhia joined the Blackstone Group as a senior managing director in its Corporate Advisory Group, based in London. Gadhia has almost 20 years of investment banking experience, having held senior positions at Barclays Capital, ABN AMRO and Baring Brothers. On the public side, Gadhia serves as a trustee of the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, and has also held a board position in public health service.

Because of my board work, I have a little bit of perspective on the intersection between public and private sectors, and finding a way to create a two-way traffic between the sectors. One of the things that’s been interesting, that I think has actually worked quite well, is people from the finance sector have been seconded into the Financial Services Authority and vice versa.

It helps you get that cross-fertilisation. In each case, you have a secure route back to where you started from. That whole secondment theme I think needs to grow almost exponentially until it’s a common occurrence. It almost goes back to Charles Handy, and his concept of portfolio careers. With age expectations, this trend is only going to increase and the ability for people to move seamlessly between different types of activity will be improved.

This movement is critical, because that’s the only way you’re going to get best practices shared between the two. Too many people think it’s a one-way street, that only the private sector has something to offer, but actually the public sector has a tremendous amount to teach the private in terms of multi-stakeholder management.

The other issue that is important is role models and people you can look up to, particularly for the younger generation, who are thinking of their career trajectory. They have to look for people who have actually built valuable careers in public life.

I was speaking on a panel in India in November, and said, ‘The whole talent management system that the private sector increasingly uses is absolutely something that the public sector needs to adopt and very quickly.’ It’s probably a cliché, but it’s true, that one of the most strategic things any CEO should be doing is having a talent management programme that creates sustained competitive advantage. You have to do that in the public sector, too.

The results of our survey of Young Global Leaders refute the conventional wisdom that they are more concerned about high salaries and work-life balance than about playing a meaningful role in society.

These young people have a strong sense of social responsibility, are very career focused, and are eager to contribute. They will demand greater job responsibilities earlier in their careers, and will seek out career development opportunities. For its part, the YGL network is organising a Master Class in 2011, to encourage tomorrow’s leaders to consider public leadership, and equip them to succeed in the drive towards public office.

Public sector organisations that tap this emerging workforce have a unique opportunity to enhance their performance. And collaborations between public and private sector organisations – particularly those that are needed to address global challenges like climate change – would improve their chances of success if leaders on both sides shared common experiences.

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11 comments

  1. Erwayn

    A wonderful insight into the need for leadership. However I feel there is a need to add more factors to consider that contributes to leadership. A lot of focus have been placed on the individual abilities of people, their own talents, abilities to perform etc. But in my opinion, leadership is also about attitudes, selflessness, passion, interpersonal relationship abilities and the ability to see a macro view of situations. The problem is, there isn't many accurate ways of measuring these qualities, could that be a reason why perhaps the wrong crowd might be given leadership roles which would otherwise fit those roles but have no chances of displaying those necessary attributes and may not be excelling in formal assessment methods such as GPA, IQ test etc?

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  3. I totally agree with you. Generally, the majority “success person” has high GPA, IQ, and high education background. However, there are still lots of global leaders even do not qualified for the recruiting standards. Some talents may focus on a certain area, but they cannot be found with the reality. On the other word, sometimes, the leader might saw one's talent because he has a higher position and global view. But for those young people, who has ambition and insights of the future, they have to go through the HR first. HR always tend to hire a proper person for the existing position….Not so easy.

  4. It is an interesting topic. Not only for the government, but also in some private sector. A young person might consider about the future of a certain industry. I know for most organizations, it is more waste to considering about a young person's opinion or adapt his or her idea. So how long one can insist when he or she face the “reality”? On the other side, I believe you can give opportunities for those young talents. But just like Erwayn said, the existing measuring system might not offer them the chances.

    So in your opinion, what should those young people do?

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