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The New Type of Leader Government Needs Now

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Government agencies are organized around outmoded models. Silos prevail and solving interagency problems is near impossible. Two men who have broken down silos and created stronger interagency cooperation joined us on the Excellence in Government Podcast to discuss the new kind of leader they say government needs: enterprise leaders.

Thad Allen, former Admiral of the U.S. Coast Guard and Ron Sanders, formerly of the U.S. Intelligence Community, characterize enterprise leaders as those who can lead across agencies to solve “wicked” national problems.

“In general, we’re dealing with great levels of complexity in government,” said Allen, who famously led the government response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. Solving challenges like the oil spill required “different kinds of insight and leadership,” he said.

When it comes to solving big problems in government, enterprise leaders understand that you’re dealing with a collection of organizations, not just a single agency.

“Problems are horizontal in nature,” said Sanders. “As a practical matter, there is no boss.”

While the president may be in charge of the overall government, you can’t run to the president to help coordinate a response to every problem. The government needs enterprise leaders, those who are adept at pulling together cross-functional teams from agencies across the entire federal community, to bring about lasting change to systemic problems.

“The original vision of the SES has never been realized,” said Sanders. Once conceived as a cadre of senior executives who would move from agency to agency, bringing their expertise with them, those in the SES now rarely leave the agencies they’re with.

Sanders was one such leader who moved between agencies, and he wants to encourage other senior executives to find ways to think across organizations.

“We’ve now entered an era where the original vision of the SES is essential,” he said. “This is back to the future.”

For more insight what skills are required of enterprise level leaders, listen to Sanders and Allen’s discussion on the Excellence in Government Podcast. 

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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