Toxic leaders and how to get over them once they’re gone … innovation labs and design thinking … making services that work for people …

THE HORIZON is a curated guide to the latest published research, books, reports and podcasts with utility for practitioners in the public sector. 

How organisations manage the aftermath of toxic leadership

When does an organisation have a duty of care to take action to support its people affected by toxic leadership? Dr Jason Mazanov from Defence’s Directorate of People Intelligence and Research posits that removal of the toxic leader is usually where the organisational response led by the management team ends; there is rarely follow-up with the people injured by toxic leadership — characterised by a lack of concern for followers, a consequence of ‘the ends justify the means’. Using Kantian deontology, Mazanov explores the rightness of responses to the aftermath of toxic leadership: that the response is consistently universal (equal treatment for all affected people), that the response treats people with dignity and respect (including the toxic leader), and that the response preserves the autonomy (self-determination) of those involved. The paper, Ethical Responses in the Aftermath of a Toxic Leader: An Australian Defence Context, was published in Australian Army Journal, Volume 15, Autumn 2019.

Doing nothing, as is the norm, is simply not an appropriate response. Mazanov suggests that organisations (especially bureaucracies) should anticipate toxic leadership by establishing policies and procedures aimed at preventing harms and responding in the aftermath of toxic leadership. But what about the toxic leader themselves; do they also deserve respect?

“Recognising that toxic leadership is the consequence of a complex and dynamic social interaction (for example, a previously effective leader becomes toxic due to changes in circumstances), this means addressing potential toxic leadership without judging the leader as an innately ‘bad’ person. For example, the policies and procedures must address claims of toxic leadership by subordinates and workers as legitimate while simultaneously working to avoid stigmatising the leader as toxic. If a leader is identified as being toxic, treating the toxic leader with dignity and respect starts with removing them from the social context without disrespecting them (regardless of how justified it may seem at the time). It also means defending the toxic leader from responses that are disproportionate to their actions. For example, allowing acts of vengeance (for example, vilification on social media) fails to respect the toxic leader as a person who has a life beyond the workplace (for example, as a spouse, parent or volunteer).

“The policies and procedures for subordinates and workers need to assess the legitimacy of harms. This seeks to protect the claims of those who have experienced legitimate harms from phony or opportunistic claims. Doing so makes it clear that the harms are authentic and recognised as legitimate injuries. This can be an important part of the healing process. Legitimate psychological, emotional and physical injuries then lead to appropriate responses such as convalescent leave or group-level interventions.”

However, Mazanov notes existing APS values lack clarity for where responsibility for dealing with the aftermath of toxic leadership lies. He proposes developing policy to inform responses to limit the risk of inappropriately putting organisational interests ahead of individual interests.

Useful for managers and leaders in public sector organisations. Understanding why toxic leadership is inevitable and the options for dealing with its aftermath will help reinforce the values of the organisation as it both supports its workforce and achieves its objectives.

With Australia’s public sector celebrating Innovation Month in July, throughout this month Mandarin Premium will look at recent research on public sector innovation.

Public sector innovation 1: the rise of innovation labs and design thinking

University of Melbourne researchers explore what makes innovation labs different from earlier agents of public sector reform such as reinventing government labs or the ‘hidden public service’ of policy consultants? Dr Michael McGann, Dr Emma Blomkamp and Professor Jenny Lewis say one important difference is the lab’s emphasis on applying a ‘design thinking’ approach: “While labs differ in the extent to which they meaningfully engage non-traditional policy actors in this process, their application of design thinking invites a more diverse range of voices and inputs into the policy process that resonates with principles of network governance and, more recently, co-production. It also aligns with ‘negotiated’ and ‘relational’ approaches to problem-solving in interconnected domains where simple technical solutions may not be feasible or apparent.” They also explore how in-house and independent labs can operate. The paper, The rise of public sector innovation labs: experiments in design thinking for policy, was published in Policy Sciences, Volume 51, September 2018.

Useful for innovation policy specialists, program leaders contemplating working with innovation labs, and organisation leaders contemplating the development or commissioning of innovation labs.

Public sector innovation 2: embedding open innovation

Danish researcher Dr Keld Pedersen has been studying the motivations and purposes of open innovation inside public sector organisations. While there have been a minority of cases that are very innovative, the level of innovation inside the public sector seems relatively low, he finds, with the act of applying OI is the goal for some public sector organisations, not the achievement of actual innovative changes. “There are many different perceptions of innovation, but most will agree that apps for reporting potholes or finding the next train are not very innovative, so in that respect most of these OI projects are actually not about innovation but about making resources operational. Some public organizations are engaged in developing and testing new innovative solutions (e.g. autonomous cars) but most are probably not.” He posits that opportunities with the greatest chance of success might be found in focus on innovating public sector infrastructure that require collaboration between private and public organisations, require insight into citizens’ needs, and depend upon changes to citizen behaviour. The papers, The purpose of public sector open innovation and Open innovation in the public sector: Evaluating the impact, were published at the European Conference on Digital Government in May 2018.

Useful for innovation policy specialists, leaders and program workers who seek to employ open innovation into their work practices.

Listen: making services that work for people

One Team Gov is a podcast started by two UK civil servants that invites “awesome people doing interesting stuff in government and the public sector”. It’s been running for a little over a year with 15 episodes so far. It’s premised on the idea that policy function and delivery function should not be separate thing if you’re going to make services that work for people.

Upcoming local discussions and launches

Refugee policy book launch; July 2, Sydney: launch of the book Refugee Rights and Policy Wrongs by Professor Jane McAdam, the Director of UNSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, and Fiona Chong, a recent international human rights fellow in Columbia University’s graduate law program. The launch will feature Professor Kerryn Phelps.

Women in the defence industry; July 11, Canberra: launch of the report Growing the Defence Industry Workforce: attracting and retaining women with critical skills and trades, from Rapid Context. This report details the current state for women in defence industry occupations including: workplace issues for women in STEM roles and in trade apprenticeships; women’s lived experiences in defence industry roles in Australia; current challenges for achieving greater diversity across the defence industry sector; and the reasons women leave the industry. The report also examines the effectiveness of strategies to date and makes suggestions for the future. Attended by the defence and security sector, defence industry, and diversity and inclusion specialists.

Transforming child, youth and family services; July 12, Melbourne: a summit by Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare to shape the future of the child, youth and family services in Victoria.

Procurement community of practice; July 16, Melbourne: a forum run by the Department of Treasury and Finance with speakers from different parts of the Victorian government.

Civil rights in the age of Trump; July 17, Sydney: Jelani Cobb delivers the Martin Luther King lecture, hosted by UNSW Centre for Ideas. A long-time staff writer for The New Yorker, Cobb writes on American history, the pursuit of liberty and the complexities of race relations.

John Brumby: shaping regional Victoria; August 2, Melbourne: a Futures Thinking forum held by the Victorian Planning Authority. New Chancellor of La Trobe University and former Premier John Brumby as he shares his vision for the future of regional Victoria.

Who controls the internet? August 15, Sydney: a Sydney Ideas forum asks where we draw the line between protecting and limiting freedom. Growth has outpaced governance, and opportunities to come together online are increasingly being undone by threats of division, such as the spread of hate speech and harassment, to political falsehoods and ‘deepfakes’. What can we do to regulate this?

Government cloud; August 20-21, Canberra: the AWS Public Sector Summit is returning. The annual summit draws significant crowds with keynotes and workshops on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, serverless and containerisation, data and analytics, security, and migration. Attended by public sector managers, contract providers, service delivery project leaders, developers, and expert users.



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