In the corporate world, leadership development programs are standard fare. Such programs often include well-defined competencies and performance metrics, as well as regularly scheduled feedback and mentoring sessions, especially for those employees designated “high potential” performers.
Not so in the public sphere. There are no defined career paths or standardized training curricula for heads of state. There are, however, requisite competencies for effective public sector leadership. As Gardner (1990) observed, “Leadership is not a mysterious activity. It is possible to describe the tasks that leaders perform....[But] we have barely scratched the surface in our efforts toward leadership development” (p. xix).
The learning curve is steep for a newly elected leader, and fraught with potential landmines. Speaking with the candor of someone no longer seeking public office, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently, “When I came to office, prime minister was the only job I'd ever held; I'd never been a government minister before....The business of running a government is like anything else: You get better the longer you do it. And there are lessons out there that, had they come to me in an identifiable form, would have been useful to know” (talk given on December 16, 2010b).
Both Gardner and Blair are emphatic that leadership is not something one is born with but something learned over time. And as Blair (2010a) put it, “Government is a race between expectations and capability.”
In the essays that follow, several leadership coaches discuss the unique challenges and effective approaches they are using to help government leaders build the competencies that will enable them to govern effectively—and win that race between their constituents's expectations and their own capabilities.