As part of one of our courses, a leader had to be interviewed to gain perspective. I interviewed a person working in public sector. Being a leader there can be challenging as corruption is accepted as the standard norm, and bringing in change is considered a herculean effort.
During the interview process what struck me was the clarity of thought and vision in every role played with a clear mandate on what was right and wrong. In a study by Nandal and Krishnan, it was discovered there was a positive relation between charisma and lack of role ambiguity. The study went on to note that it was the absence of role ambiguity and not the charisma of the leader that could directly result in empowerment of followers by increasing their self-efficacy.
The system in itself had its flaws. A lot has remained unchanged since the British times, with the system designed to foster a trust deficit between authorities and the public. Unfortunately, this attitude continues to this day. This strongly seemed to suggest that the organization structure inspired the strategy and not vice versa. Unlike the lackadaisical approach of most officers, this person’s subordinates are inspired to think out of the system to set up a new structure keeping in line with the democratic ideals of the country.
I realized that in order to grow and create an impact, one must constantly challenge the system. As George Bernard Shaw had said “Progress is impossible without change, and those who can’t change their minds cannot change anything.”
In public administration and other organizations, personal charisma does not always work to get the work done from subordinates at the lower level. It is more of a position based influence, where follow-up is extremely essential to see things through. Only then would they build their expectations of the type of person you are and do the work which they are supposed to do. However, despite the hierarchy, inspiring rather than a strict command and follow structure seems more effective. Some well performing members should also be given a certain degree of autonomy when working. I was reminded of Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership theory where there is a lot of direction in the initial stages and delegation in the later stages.
According to De Jong et al, to enhance individual innovation among the employees, leaders could do one or all of the following:
- Creating a positive atmosphere – By giving employees sufficient autonomy to carry out their tasks and recognize initiatives and innovative efforts
- Monitoring – Some degree of monitoring is necessary, although excessive monitoring may lead to bad vibes.
A good leader has the right balance of both autonomy and monitoring.
In “One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, two of the three secrets for managerial effectiveness are One minute praisings and one minute reprimands. One minute praisings help in “catching people doing something right”, whereas one minute reprimands are highly effective due to the instant feedback and focus on the wrong action.
According to this person, the two most important leadership traits for a bureaucrat are compassion and spine-Compassion to empathize with the people he meets (general public, corporates, rural poor, staff) and spine to stand up to unethical practices and taking tough calls when necessary. To ensure no corruption occurs within his offices, a feedback loop (media, local politicians, general public etc.) is maintained. In an environment rampant with “jugaad” – the shortcut way of doing things, and making subordinates the scapegoat, owning up or taking a stand against an issue is very tough. Just like saying yes to things, it’s also important to say no to things to be successful.
Corruption in the public sector is a constant concern among the general public. In addition to employees’ attributes, the superior’s empowerment strategies emerged as the most important dimension of ethical leadership, in a study by Khuntia et al. Moreover, in high contextual countries like India, a positive relationship with the leader provides the employees motivation and commitment to the work. If the employee feels secure enough and nurtured under his manager, he would be loyal to the manager and the organization.
Appreciation for sincere job done and harsh punishments for offenders ensures minimal corruption. Emotional intelligence of the leader also comes in handy to nurture employees. In public administration, personal charisma and credibility at the ground level matters to get noticed by superiors. Credibility is indicative of integrity. Public administration and the corporate world are not too different that way.