Executive Education Celebrates 25 Years of Leadership Training
THE U.S. CIVIL SERVICE SYSTEM ensures that employees have the proper technical skills for their jobs. But the government historically has not prepared people for management, says Peter Zimmerman MPP 1977, senior associate dean for strategic program development. For the last 25 years at the Kennedy School, the Senior Executive Fellows (SEF) and the Senior Managers in Government (SMG) programs have trained government employees to thrive in an often challenging leadership role.
“In the American government, power and authority are fragmented,” Zimmerman says. “One doesn’t have the concentration of authority that one might find in a general manager in a corporate setting. Assembling influence and authority is a political act that doesn’t come naturally to civil servants.”
From September 23 to 25, Executive Education is scheduled to celebrate the anniversary of SEF and SMG with a symposium called “25 Years of Executive Leadership in the Federal Government.” The SEF program is designed for federal employees who have been selected by their agencies as candidates for top executive jobs, while SMG focuses on management issues for those who have already attained those positions.
To date, about 1,500 people have attended each program, both of which employ the case method to evaluate real-life scenarios in public management. Each participant also brings a personal case for analysis. Douglas Small, regional administrator in Boston for the Employment and Training Administration in the Department of Labor, who attended SEF in summer 2003, says the course “helped make some organizational decisions and reorganization decisions easier.” It also helped Small, the former program manager for Job Corps, get a promotion to his current post.
Small’s instructor, Dan Fenn, taught him to “probe what was right and what was wrong and what had value when you try to problem-solve.” Having served on the executive staff of President John F. Kennedy, Fenn draws on his own government experience in the classroom. He understands the challenges of government service, in what he calls “the toughest managerial jobs in society.”
Those managers face complicated issues revolving around human behavior and politics, says Zimmerman. Many participants say that their situation is unique. But soon they meet people from other agencies who experience similar problems. Those problems can’t always be solved during a four-week session, but the program can give participants tools that they’ll harness for the remainder of their careers.
“All the people who come here are trying to accomplish public gains through the actions of others in a highly political environment,” Zimmerman says. “What we want to do is help them take what they already know and go beyond, so the frameworks and teaching that the faculty provide will help them see a world that is very familiar to them in a different light, and they’ll make decisions with better outcomes.”