Guerrilla Employees: Should Managers Nurture, Tolerate, or Terminate Them?

Authors

  • Rosemary O'Leary

    Corresponding author
    1. Maxwell School of Syracuse University
      Rosemary O'Leary is Distinguished Professor and Phanstiel Chair of Strategic Management and Leadership at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is the only person to win three National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) awards for Distinguished Research, Excellence in Teaching, and Best Dissertation.
      E-mail:roleary@maxwell.syr.edu
    Search for more papers by this author

Rosemary O'Leary is Distinguished Professor and Phanstiel Chair of Strategic Management and Leadership at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is the only person to win three National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) awards for Distinguished Research, Excellence in Teaching, and Best Dissertation.
E-mail:roleary@maxwell.syr.edu

Abstract

“Guerrilla government” is Rosemary O'Leary's term for the actions of career public servants who work against the wishes—either implicitly or explicitly communicated—of their superiors. This form of dissent is usually carried out by those who are dissatisfied with the actions of public organizations, programs, or people, but typically, for strategic reasons, choose not to go public with their concerns in whole or in part. Rather than acting openly, guerrillas often move clandestinely behind the scenes, salmon swimming against the current of power. Guerrillas run the spectrum from anti-establishment liberals to fundamentalist conservatives, from constructive contributors to deviant destroyers.

Three public managers with significant experience comment on O'Leary's thesis that guerrilla government is about the power of career bureaucrats; the tensions between career bureaucrats and political appointees; organization culture; and what it means to act responsibly, ethically, and with integrity as a public servant. Karl Sleight, former director of the New York State Ethics Commission; David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council of Greater Kansas City; and Ralph R, Bauer, former deputy regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Seattle and Chicago regions, present unique perspectives on the “guerrilla” influence on policy and management, as well as the challenges posed by this ever-present public management phenomenon.

Guerrilla: One who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit.

Webster's New College Dictionary, 2008

Ancillary