Principle 4: Be an Example

One thing I think we often look for in the Public Service is examples of people who are successfully taking risks. The Clerk’s report talks about taking risks, and we read over and over again that for the Public Service to thrive in the future and be able to effectively deliver service to Canadians, we’re going to need to take risks. Sometimes this risks will pay off, sometimes they won’t. This doesn’t mean just taking risks without thinking — we can take calculated and intelligent risks.

The cadet program teaches that were are two kinds of examples we set: Deliberate and Unconscious. The biggest danger is when these two things come into conflict. For example, if you show cadets how to do their uniforms (deliberate example) but you show up with your uniform not done properly (unconscious example), the net impact on your followers is that you’re all talk.

Not a great way to inspire your followers.

In terms of deliberate examples, we see a lot of positive things out there. The reports that have been written and the feedback that we see is excellent. The words are written in an inspirational way that encourage people to take risks and to be more “out there”. I wonder, then, what the unconscious examples are that we’re seeing?

There are obvious reasons for seeing some unconscious examples at this point in time — the operational context is hugely important in assessing any situation. However, I don’t think that we have a lack of public servants who want to take intelligent risks. I think there’s a lot of public servants who don’t want to take the risks if they think they’re not going to get back-up.

Nick wrote an excellent piece talking about the mythical clay layer, who may be getting an unfair reputation in all this. I think what we can agree on, though, is that all the way up the chain (and at the working level too) there needs to be awareness of what sort of unconscious examples are being set. We’re always being watched by those above and below us. We can say or write many things deliberately, but if it conflicts with our unconscious examples, what is the net impact of our actions?


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