Dispatch from Saudi Arabia

I’m in Riyadh this week, blogging from afar at a conference on public administration.  The exotic is in the small things – Google comes up in Arabic with the scroll bar on the left and there’s an arrow painted on the ceiling of my hotel room pointing to Mecca.

The conference is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Kingdom’s Institute of Public Administration which heads the government’s professionalization and reform efforts (think – the recent U.S. attempt at creating a U.S. Public Service Academy).

Even though there are speakers from 45 countries, there is a heavy dose of Americans, including business author Tom Peters, Reinventing Government author David Osborne, Harvard’s Steve Kelman (who I think is also blogging on this conference), and the IBM Center’s executive director Jonathan Breul.

While the conference’s objective is to inspire public administrators in the Kingdom, I’ll try to snapshot some of the highlights that may be of interest to a U.S. audience. . . .

Tom Peters was the kickoff keynote speaker this morning, and was thoughtfully provocative as usual.  Peters co-authored one of the top business books of the twentieth century, In Search of Excellence in 1982 (and these days he writes a blog worth visiting!).  While he has posted his presentation on his blog, I’ll highlight three things that remind me why he was such an inspiration to me and fellow reinventors in the 1990s:

What is Excellence? Excellence, says Peters, is if you:

  • Care more than others think is wise
  • Risk more than others think is safe
  • Dream more than others think is practical, and
  • Expect more than others think is possible.

What is the Role of Senior Leaders? Senior leaders exist to help employees achieve excellence (see above for definition).  Peters reminds us that leaders can grow only when their colleagues are succeeding . . . “we are in the human development process.”  He said one organization promoted leaders based on their answer to the question:  “Name three people whose growth you contributed to in the past year and explain how.”

What is the Most Important Strategic Skill of Leaders? Listening.  He said doctors, on average, interrupt their patients within 18 seconds.  Imagine what it is for senior executives!  He says listening is of strategic importance, is a core value, is trainable, and is a profession.  The four most important words of a leader: “What do you think?”

If you found this inspiring as well, go back and re-read some of his books!


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