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Leadership of Today

August 5, 2009
By H. Mosher

We try to learn about leadership from great leaders of the past, says Christopher Dorobek in this month's Incoming column, Trite But True: It All Comes Down to Leadership:

Many remarkable books have been written about leaders. Among the classics are Warren Bennis' On Becoming a Leader or John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You. There are books about President Lincoln's skills; one is Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips. Another book looks at the leadership skills of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: Churchill on Leadership: Executive Success in the Face of Adversity by Steven F. Hayward. In the end, we understand that leadership is so important that we even try to look back at history to find lessons learned from great leaders in the past.

We all have been to conferences where speakers talk about the problems facing government today. Inevitably, the solution involves leadership. Yet even with all the books and all the talk about the importance of leadership, there seems to be an inverse relationship between how often we talk about leadership and how much we really understand it.

He continues by noting that leadership of today needs to be less reflective to really address today's pressing leadership issues. Among his assertions: People confuse leadership with management, and leaders must understand emerging principles of leadership. Moving past the obstacles and understanding these key 21st century principles, which include "agility, innovation and the ability to enable people to think independently," requires a different kind of wisdom: that of today's leaders. He gives an example from the Environmental Protection Agency:

One of my favorite stories of real leadership comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Jeremy Ames, a young man in his 20s, is a front-line federal employee in the EPA's Indoor Environments Division. Last year he had the task of creating a public service announcement to educate people about the dangers of radon. Rather then just contracting it out, Ames had the wonderful idea of creating a contest that would allow people to submit their videos on YouTube, and then the EPA would award a prize to the winning videos. Ames even researched government regulations to determine that the government could award prize money. The results of this contest were remarkable. Several of the videos are just stunning, and you can view them at ... [The contest's] success spoke volumes about their ability to infuse the organization with an innovative culture-to empower people to try new things. It was seeping throughout the organization, and people had adopted ideas as their own. Peacock and O'Neill had managed to start a transformation of the EPA-an organization that was already one of the government's most far-sighted agencies.

This leads us to this month's question: Where have you seen good leadership recently? We welcome your stories, anecdotes, links and feedback on other examples of where government agencies have addressed these issues of agility, innovation and encouragement of independent or creative efforts.



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