A Tale of Two Leaders

Article excerpt

Once at a management meeting I heard an adage that "managers do things right while leaders do the right thing." I believe that in order to be truly successful in Public Human Services Administration, both principles are essential. Of the two, however, leadership is the most elusive. It is clearly more art than science, almost impossible to measure, and difficult to define. It's a little like the Supreme Court observation on obscenity--it's hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.

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I would like to share the story of two former co-workers who have achieved prominence and success in ways that seemed unimaginable when we started our careers together decades ago.

Last November, the voters of Northampton County, Pa., elected former Human Service Director John Stoffa as their county executive. John and I worked together at the county level in the 1980s. John emerged from retirement to seek the highest elected office in the county out of concern over poor government performance and a breakdown in communication and civility among elected officials. This was truly a David and Goliath story. Without party backing, John defeated a well-financed, highly endorsed, two-term incumbent in the primary election. The approach that led to this upset was remarkable. John had no paid advisers, accepted only small contributions from individuals, eschewed negative campaigning, and had no political platform other than his history of public service, common sense and a desire to do good. His election was a grass-roots effort in the finest tradition, with volunteers creating handmade signs and mimeographed fliers. It was a campaign that would make the political pundits, spin doctors and prognosticators cringe, but John's open "what you see is what you get" approach resonated with the voters and he won in a landslide.

I find this story to be refreshing and encouraging. Perhaps County Executive Stoffa's election contains a message that voters are eager to embrace an open campaign where character and ethics are the main drivers. Since taking office, John has forged new regional partnerships, opened up communications, and has crossed political party lines to appoint the most qualified individuals to fill key Cabinet posts.

Recently, President Bush nominated USDA Undersecretary Eric M. Bost as ambassador to South Africa. Eric and I have worked together for nearly two decades in different states and in different capacities. …

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