Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

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Reflections from Abroad: What Were They Thinking?

Shortly after the announcement that President Obama would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, I had lunch with several English friends. One asked what I thought about the prize decision, but before I could answer, he pronounced, "I think Obama should give it back!"

I disagreed, noting the result would be President Obama's forfeiting a fine opportunity to use his acceptance speech to articulate anew the principles and aspirations that the Peace Prize committee had decided he embodied. Also, refusing the prize would smack of disrespect - a swipe at the judgment of the committee - or possibly of unwillingness to try living up to the committee's assessment.

Some time after the lunch conversation, I saw that Obama's Nobel Prize had become a topic on a leadership listserv in which I participate. Messages were being hurled back and forth at an unusually rapid rate and high volume. I decided to start reading them.

Basically, the leadership scholars, teachers, consultants, and others commenting on the listserv divided into two camps: those who argued that the awarding of the prize to President Obama was premature because he had not yet produced a major tangible breakthrough and those who argued that he did deserve the prize because he had radically shifted the stance of the U.S. in various world forums and opened the door to desirable changes.

The debate reminds me of two contrasting views, or schools of leadership thought, that my late colleague Bob Terry liked to play off each other. He noted that many leadership gurus identified "results" as the hallmark of an effective leader. Indeed, this view jibes with the expectation that we citizens often have of someone who is seeking election or who has a responsible position in our organizations. Accounts of outstanding political or corporate leaders' lives often highlight their great accomplishments.

The contrasting school of thought, however, emphasizes "engagement" as the hallmark of an effective leader. Advocates of this view argue that the most effective leaders are those who engage followers in solving complex organizational or societal problems, who help diverse groups see the value in rolling up their sleeves and joining in a common effort. This group argues that sustainable results are unlikely to happen unless this type of engagement occurs.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee seems to have sided with the second group. As for me, I'm looking forward to President Obama's acceptance speech.


I am also of the opinion that awarding of the prize to President Obama was premature.

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