Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Federal Executive Institute and Organizational Change: Reflections on Institutional Decay

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Federal Executive Institute and Organizational Change: Reflections on Institutional Decay

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Prior to the 1980s, only one federal, public institution on executive development seemed to understand the need to prepare career executives to become the "transforming leaders," "change agents," and "strategic visionaries" who would control and direct the rush of the technological, informational society. That creative gem was The Federal Executive Institute (FEI). It was a "cultural island" in the swamp of traditional didactic management training programs and the pompous academic, pedagogical approaches. And yet, as the FEI moved from its "creative stage" (birth) into its "middle years" (adolescence), the signs of drift, decay, bureaucracy, and rigidity began to "rear their heads." Therefore, in order to understand the chnage processes at the FEI, this article will chronicle, analyze, and explain the "agonizing" downward adjustments of the FEI from a cuttingedge leadership experiment into a mundane, management institution based on participant observation, action-research, and the reflectivepractitioner approach.

INTRODUCTION

Prior to the 1980s, only one federal public institution on executive development seemed to understand the need to prepare public career executives to become the "transforming leaders," "change agents," and "strategic visionaries" who would control and direct the rush of the technological, informational society. That creative gem was The Federal Executive Institute (FEI). It was a "cultural island" in the swamp of traditional didactic management training programs and the pompous academic, pedagogical approaches. In fact, for most public executives attending the residential programs at the FEI, it became the first time in years, maybe even decades, that they had an opportunity to invest time in an adult educational/assessment/developmental endeavor.

Therefore, it became essential that the Institute be an effective developmental, training, and educational experience. To repeat, it played a salient role in preparing and sensitizing federal executives to the changes occurring in the workforce, in the national and international environments, in leadership/management philosophies, processes, and techniques, and in the areas of personal and interpersonal relationships.

Right from its inception in 1968, there was: 1) a demand for understandable basics in values, ethics, and constitutionalism rather than the stale management techniques being taught to executives at leading academic institutions; 2) a need for the reaffirmation of personal responsibility and individual accountability in organizational cultures; and 3) a thrust to link pragmatic effectiveness to transcendent truths so that productivity and employee morale could be grounded in the regime values of the American constitutional democracy.

It was clear that the approach of the Federal Executive Institute during its first 10-15 years of existence was an effective way of dealing with the problems, the tensions, and the practical realities of leadership in the public sector. The personal experiences of Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and others demanded that an introspective assessment be one of the critical foundations for executive leadership.

The FEI "know thyself" educational framework emphasized that self-autonomy and leadership responsibilities were acquired only by the painful process of continual contemplation, self-criticism, feedback, and self-renewal. The Federal Executive Institute gave executives the opportunity to look back at some of the intellectual forefathers of democracy so that they could develop both generic and contextual leadership approaches that would be in tune with the practical demands of "now" and the continual requirements of ethical responsibility in the future. Self-identity and the quest for self-identity became the salient anchors of the FEI.

The real laboratory for "growing an executive was thought to be in the executives themselves." Since public leaders are typically thrust into positions in which complexities, conflicts, ambiguities, multiple values abound, it was deemed essential that one learn about varied psychological, anthropological, political, social, cultural, religious, ethical, and philosophical systems so that value definition(s) could become a liberating experience; only liberated, secure, and tolerant executives could forge a confident sense of self and a horizontal vision of organizational life. …

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