Public leaders in the US are typically rewarded for cleaning up after a crisis, but not for preventing problems that would have avoided the mess in the first place.

“In the aftermath of the BP spill, the public praised government leaders who led the cleanup, found new jobs for out-of-work Gulf shrimpers and determined BP’s culpability for the loss of 11 lives and untold environmental damage. Unfortunately, public leaders, who anticipate problems and work to protect the resources we own in common, typically go unrewarded – or they are criticized as obstructionists,” says Georgianna Bishop, president and founder of the Public Sector Consortium (PSC).

The PSC is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization dedicated to training public leaders in sustainable leadership practices.

For example, PSC helped Rhode Island municipal leaders and legislators become models of good governance by adopting Sustainable Leadership Practices that focus on anticipating potential problems and avoiding crises.

 “Sustainable Leadership Practices require public sector managers to assess and preserve all the resources we depend on in common – not only environmental, but human, and financial as well – while winning the support of taxpayers, nonprofit organizations and businesses in their communities.”  Says Bishop.

“Most importantly, individual managers and agencies have to stop operating in silos. They have to build trust across all the government agencies they work with in order to serve the public. Our leadership training encourages managers to take risks that might expose vulnerabilities, communicate openly and develop trust.”

Bishop adds, “It is easy to bash leaders when they do a good job at preserving and protecting our common resources. Candidates blame them for over-regulating and hampering economic growth – until disaster strikes. Then politicians play the blame game. The 2008 financial crisis, failing levees and bridges, failure to implement modern railroad control systems and BP are all recent examples.” Runaway regulation, overly bureaucratic systems and laws that are unsustainable and unmanageable are not the answer. “The key is finding the balance.”

Bishop emphasizes, “America can learn from Singapore where citizens expect their leaders to anticipate problems and avoid expensive crises on behalf of the citizens,” Bishop says. Singapore expects the best and the brightest to go into public service and they fast track young students for high levels of responsibility as early as age nine.

“The government protecting our common resources or commons is an old idea that dates back to tribal societies. In Colonial days, the Boston Commons was set aside for livestock grazing that was essential to survival. The name stuck – especially in New England where the town greens are still called the commons.”