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Public Sector Needs Leadership with ‘Practical Wisdom’


Public service leaders need to develop their practical wisdom and be able to work across organisational and social boundaries, according to a new report.

Reforming Public Services, edited by Sunningdale Institute Fellow Professor John Benington, draws on presentations by the Prime Minister, Chancellor and other ministers at a recent conference “21st Century Public Services: Putting People First”.

Prof Benington said: “One of the conference’s key themes was the need to recognise that much of the leadership of public service reform is taking place at the front-line, and at local government and local community level. Governments need to devolve power and resources from the centre to those delivering public services, in order to make improvement in those services self-sustaining. If this is to happen, public policy makers and managers will often have to work across the boundaries between different sectors, levels of government, and services – and this has profound implications for the ways in which we develop our leaders.

“Leadership development programmes must focus not just on individual development but on how that learning gets translated into organisational change, on the improvement of conceptual thinking as well as professional and technical skills, and, above all, on the cultivation of the ‘practical wisdom’ required to make sound judgements about complex, cross-cutting problems.”

Professor Benington’s analysis comes at a time of intense National School leadership development activity, with a commitment to the generation of such practical wisdom through academic and other developmental collaborations, and the work of its Sunningdale Institute:
• A new core suite of corporate leadership development programmes for senior civil servants.
• Warwick Business School’s MPA (the public sector MBA), to which the National School contributes two modules.
• ‘Leading Change and Organisational Development’ – a new Masters degree designed and delivered in partnership with the University of Birmingham and the Tavistock Institute.
• Leaders UK , a leadership programme designed to create leaders for the whole public service system, is delivered with the University of Birmingham and Ashridge, with associate organisations including Clutterbuck Associates and the Whitehall and Industry Group.
• In January, the first project to be undertaken as part of the Sunningdale Institute Action Research Network went live. ‘Effective Business Models’ sees directors from departments that have undergone Capability Review meet to share knowledge and experience, and consider alternative approaches to design issues. This is led by Sunningdale Institute Fellows Professor Andy Neely of Cranfield School of Management and Professor Rick Delbridge of Cardiff Business School .


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