John Creighton and I have been thinking a lot about a big shift that’s been happening over the last 20 years. It’s a shift that’s been happening everywhere, but it is having a big impact in our public life. This is the shift from a world ruled by institutions to a world where individual people are at the center of life. We’re going to talk about a few different aspects of this idea in a series of conversations. This is the first. Here’s the video:

Creighton And Rourke Interview: Public Leadership In A New World
from Brad Rourke on Vimeo.

Here is one facet of this shift. The expectation in the past has been that institutions will do things for people. The new expectation is that individuals or citizens will do things for themselves. These changes mean public leaders have to start playing new roles. If institutions have to adapt to this change, that means their leaders have to as well. So what is the role of a public leader?

All of this leads to a set of questions that public leaders and institutional executives must deal with. There aren’t clear or easy answers.

For instance, in an era of citizen-centric power.

  • What are the important roles for public leaders? In what ways should public leaders seek to influence, shape and guide public institutions?
  • How should public institutions change their relationship with the public? If the role of the institution is not to do things for people, what is it?
  • Should institutional executives be giving more time and attention to figuring out how to support people to make decisions and do things for themselves?

And, there is room to really examine what the role is of institutions overall. There may be some institutions, in the current formation, that no longer serve an essential purpose.

That’s hard for anyone to confront. Organizations like people have a survival instinct. Leaders and executives tend to try to protect an institution’s survival at all costs.

Public leaders who are effective in a citizen-centric society must rise above survival instincts.

That’s not easy for anyone to do. We should strive to support public leaders who try.

(The text of this post is based in part on notes that John Creighton shared with me as we prepared for this conversation.)