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Sunday, 22 January 2012

33. The Public Servant: A Local Government Biz Book

This idea is a proposal for a book, one that I think is missing from the market, a local government ‘biz book’.

I started thinking about this after a couple of exchanges on twitter with Mary Mckenna (no relation!).  Mary leads a company called Learning Pool that provides e-learning for the public sector.  She told me that she often reads biz books and found one of them – From Good to Great – so valuable that she bought a load of copies for the company and got everyone at Learning Pool to read it.  While there is a real industry around ‘how to’ guides for the private sector manager, there isn’t really a public sector equivalent – we agreed that there should be.

So, here is my take on what that book might look like.

The core concept of my book is to take Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ and update and adapt it for the present day public sector manager.  Instead of The Prince I call it The Public Servant.  Instead of advice on ruling a city state it will provide advice on managing a service or policy area.

The Prince

The Prince is almost exactly 500 years old.  It is a very readable and relatively short text - well worth having a look at.

The purpose of The Prince was to provide advice to the autocratic rulers of the time, particularly the new ones, about how to rule successfully.   Machiavelli has a reputation for promoting the dark arts of politics but his intention, with this book in any case, was to present a realistic view of the political world and to offer advice accordingly.   As a one time senior civil servant in Florence he knew what he was talking about.

The Prince was controversial for its advocacy of ‘immoral’ methods in certain situations and for its distinction between public and private morality.  There has been much debate over the years about whether the book should be taken at face value not least because Machiavelli himself is widely believed to have been a republican.

Leaving all that to one side, I reckon I can borrow a number of useful things from The Prince for The Public Servant including:
  • The use of examples from the classics although where Machiavelli referred to Greek and Roman classics I will be referring to the local government classics
  • A realistic view of the world – in this case the world of contemporary local government  
  • The concept of fortune, in other words the constant change that those in local government are exposed to and need to respond to
  • The concept of virtue – in other words, independent of universal moral codes, the values needed in the role to respond to particular circumstances
The Public Servant

The Public Servant will have four main chapters.

1.  The Meaning of Public Service
The value of public service, recognising the value of what the public sector does, the central duty of the public servant to protect and promote the service or policy that they are responsible for.

2.  How to Protect Your Service or Policy Against Change
The nature of change in local government, the different types of change, the values needed in different circumstances to protect your service or policy.

3.  How to Promote Your Service or Policy
Why the public manager needs to be constantly promoting their service or policy, the different methods to be used and the circumstances to use them in, internal and external arenas.

4.  How to Build Your Team
The qualities of a good team, the way to appoint and retain good staff, the way to lead a team and ensure loyalty and commitment

Sound like a bestseller?

Photo credit:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Machiavel_Offices_Florence.jpg
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blue_mountains_library/6415559533/

1 comment:

Andrew Stevens said...


I'm just wondering to what extent this proposed enterprise is already covered by what Barry Quirk has just written about in 'Re-imagining Government'?

So you might have to ramp up the Machiavelli and be less Osborne and Gaebler. No bad thing (let's not forget he was an adviser to city states...)

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