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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Do We Expect Too Much from Leaders and Too Little from Citizens?

Anyone who observed the U.S. election season this fall will not be surprised to learn the results of Harvard's 2010 National Leadership Index, which reports on citizens' level of confidence in the country's's leadership. The index, which is based on an annual random telephone survey, shows that only 38 percent of Americans think that the nation's leaders are performing well.

In the last few years the overall confidence ranking has taken a dive in concert with the downturn in the nation's economy, reaching the lowest point in 2008. The news media have informed us day after day that the current lack of confidence in political leaders is largely due to citizen anger over a Democratic administration's inability to turn the economy around. The Harvard survey revealed, however, that people's lack of confidence in the country's leaders stems less from anger than it does from disappointment.

This leads me to wonder if we citizens expect too much from the people we elect to public office; when our expectations are dashed, we turn to the next group of candidates who promise to take a different tack. What would happen if we kept in mind that we are always electing human beings with various limitations to operate a government system of checks and balances and that all of us have roles to play (beyond elections) in crafting beneficial changes for a diverse population? Maybe increasing expectations for ourselves and lowering them for elected officials and public administrators would be a good thing.

The National Leadership Index offers more welcome news for the nonprofit world. In addition to asking responders to assess the country's leadership in general, the survey also asked about confidence in the leadership of 14 different sectors, and some sectors show fairly positive rankings. The highest confidence levels are in military leadership, followed by the nonprofit/charitable sector, education, and the Supreme Court. Ranking at the bottom are Congress, the media, and Wall Street.

The full report of the index, which is published by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University, can be found here.

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