Monday, June 25, 2012

Stockholm Syndrome And History’s Down Escalator

I am always surprised at the number of public administrators these days who appear to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where hostages begin to defend their captors.

Ask these individuals a question about a level of service or upkeep and they note how stretched they are for resources.  But when attempts are made to rally the electorate to motivate elected officials to provide the funding necessary to do the job right, these individuals almost always begin back peddling if not diving under the table.

There is definitely the impression that retribution is alive and well among civil servants and not just politicians, undermining more than a hundred years of civil service reform.

This behavior also enables elected officials and pundit enablers to gridlock measures popular with the general public.

In the electorate we are under the impression that administrators openly and passionately advocate within government for resources and services sufficient to do right by the public and publicly owned property and that the merits of these discussions find their way to elected officials where they are further examined and and help to create insight and inform decisions.

I fear that isn’t the way it is working in practice these days.  Public administrators seem far more willing to push back on the electorate with excuses about why things can’t be done properly than they are to advocate for what they need to get the job done.

Even if they aren’t silenced within agencies, in my experience they can be subject to interference and even threats by elected officials.

By-products of this dilemma are not only gridlock and less passionate advocates within agencies but a passive CYA culture when it comes to holding the line in the face of special interests or the now ubiquitous absence of strategic thinking.

In contravention of one of the 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees public administrators who are passionately outspoken about their jobs today are often suppressed into silence for fear that they will be accused of rocking the boat or draw retribution from and even “scalp-hunting” from elected officials while those who are inept are given safe haven.

The result is that lobbyists and special interests have free reign over what was meant to be in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” while in the words of Hardin Tibbs month before last, both administrators and elected bodies in “democratic governments seem increasingly populist rather than strategic, and wait for electoral pressure before risking policy initiatives.”

Tibbs, a business consultant, eloquently blogged six months ago that we stand at the convergence of two major historical tendencies where “ascending upsides and descending downsides meet, converging in a fleeting moment of equal power, which pushes open the door of possibility to its widest extent.”

He continues that “Now is when our mere attitudes about the future can make a decisive difference.  Here is a tipping point in time where we can jump from the down escalator of history onto the up one.”

Tibbs argues that “Now the main risk is getting caught in the downdraft of pessimism, for here is an opening of maximum creativity.”

“The ideas we debate now will crystallize into the template of the era to come – the transmodern civilization being born.”

In my opinion, we need passionate public administrators, not just politicians, to be a part of that debate.

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