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Meeting the Leadership Development Challenges through Co-Production

Over the past 20 years of doing leadership development in a variety of organizations and countries and through a process of trial and error we have developed an approach that addresses the leadership challenges outlined above: developing capabilities to deal with “wicked problems”, filling the leadership vacuum, increasing the public performance of leaders and organizations and motivating public servants with leadership potential to prepare themselves for leadership positions.  We call this process co-production.  At it simplest level the strategy means joint planning and joint delivery of leadership programs with our organizational partners and with the students we teach.

Principle #1: Co-production and Co-delivery

Our Executive Leadership Institute (ELI) gives priority to clients who are prepared to participate as an equal partner in the design and delivery of our leadership development programs.  This usually takes the form of having 1-2 senior leaders in the organization designated to work with our institute faculty to design the curriculum as well as deliver it to participants.

Principle #2: “Active Learning Pedagogy”

Our Co-production model not only includes the active participation of agency leaders in the design and delivery of the curriculum.  It also includes the active participation of trainees throughout the duration of the program.  What “active learning” means is that participants are asked at every stage of the program to apply what they are learning to their organizational work setting.  This requirement is based on well tested studies of what and how adults learn.

Principle #3: Multi-level Leadership Focus

It is important that leadership development be multi-level in its focus, giving appropriate attention to 1) individual leadership strengths/styles, 2) leading groups and teams, 3) leading organizations (i.e., managing budgeting, personnel, MIS and other systems) with a focus on “change management” and 4) leading in the larger community setting which shapes the environment of the organization.  It is common knowledge that some leaders can easily inspire followers but cannot run organizations or facilitate group and team-oriented activities.  Others are good at interacting in large community settings while others become nearly incapacitated when facing hostile groups, the media or any kind of larger public limelight.  In short, it is important for participants to understand that leadership at all levels of the organization plays a critical, but slightly different role in promoting the public good, starting with street level leaders who deliver the service to those at the other end of the leadership spectrum who are responsible for the strategic direction of the organization.

Principle #4: Public Service Leadership Requires Balancing Competing Moral Values

Co-Production is not only an effective curricular design and delivery strategy for quickly teaching applied leadership principles to emergent leaders, it also models the real-life practicalities of public service leadership.   One of the major differences between public and private sector leaders is that the former lead in an environment of murky, grey and often contested values.  There is not a financial “bottom line” profit & loss target that serves as a common denominator for measuring success.  For public officials, success is in the “eye of the beholder” – the party, the business community, the environmentalists, the religious/ethnic community, the press, the internet, leaders of other nations, etc.  As the eyes of the beholders expand in number and increase in diversity, public sector officials have the problem of mediating competing values or competing interpretations of the values at the center of the political system. 

Given this  unique challenge faced by public sector leaders, ELI’s programs explicitly promote the view that public sector leadership carries with it unique moral obligations that are distinctive to a particular political/legal setting.

Principle #5: Adaptability over Time

It is important that leadership programs have the capacity to quickly adapt to the changing context of the organization.  For example, if an organization suddenly finds itself facing a major challenge as a result of a natural catastrophe, a sudden economic reversal, an unexpected court mandate, or a political change in direction, the program needs to have the flexibility to incorporate these “surprises” into the design and delivery of the training.  The Co-Production Leadership Model we have outlined facilitates this adaptability extremely well.  Agency co-instructors can make suggested change in the design of the curriculum or last minute changes in each session to incorporate the latest “surprise of day” that may require organizational changes by the top leadership to accommodate the new contextual forces at play in the external environment. 

One technique we have found especially useful to accommodate this need for flexibility is a final “capstone case” at the end of the program.  This case is used both as an integrative group project to further hone the leadership principles learned in the program as well as an organizationally relevant problem-solving exercise that can add additional information to the decision-making process of senior managers.  These cases are generated by the agency co-instructors who team-teach with our institute faculty. 

The figure below provides a pictorial representation of the Leadership Co-Production Model we have developed, with the specific content being shaped by the needs of our clients.  It is still a “work in progress”, but through testing over time and in different cultural settings, we believe it captures some of the essential elements for successfully and quickly preparing the next generation of public service leaders to meet the daunting challenges of globalization and the expectations for ever-higher levels of performance.

Co-Production Model