For our future leaders

I took some time off today to guest lecture the PGDPA class – the elite group of RCSC-selected officers trainees – at the Royal Institute of Management. Here is an excerpt from my three-part talk. I shared a skill, a tool and a concern.

Skill – Communication: Communication is key to any successful relationships or leadership. Just because we can talk, read or write does not mean that we can communicate well. In fact it is difficult to communicate effectively. I struggled all my life and I still do. And also it is easier to miscommunicate than to communicate well. That’s why conflicts occur, relationships die or misunderstandings happen because of miscommunication, or from not communicating enough.

As future leaders in the government, what might eventually make or break your career will be your communication skills. How effectively can you communicate your ideas, views and visions – to your bosses, peers and subordinates. You will be leading teams to complete certain tasks – big and small. Unless you can communicate effectively to your members, you won’t get anything done.

There are three things to remember in communication. First, it is contextual – in that every communication must happen within, and accompanied by, the necessary premise. Don’t assume people know what you are talking about. Second, you need to know your audience. How you talk to a stranger should be different from how you talk to your lover; How you talk to a group of students is different from talking to a group of farmers. Third, it is about meanings in that your audience will make their own meanings of your messages, which may or may not be what you meant. If you are cognisant of these three aspects, you will learn to communicate well.

Tool – Postmanian Approach to public policymaking. As public officials you will be involved in making rules, laws and policies. Now public policy has its own theory and practice, which you will study in another course. Here I will offer you a simple tool that I have adapted from media ecology theory by Neil Postman.

This is in light of the countless numbers of rules that government agencies make every day. Rule-making by our public offices rivals archery as our national sports. Only gossiping, perhaps, overtakes the two. In many cases, rules are made to ease their work or protect themselves – and rarely for public interest, convenience or safety. ‘Who exist for whom?’ is a question, at times.  For example, the requirement to submit same set of documents to different government agencies for different purposes. Why can’t the agencies, operating under the same government, coordinate among themselves and verify the information based on a central database.

As a new generation of civil servants, I would like you to be more civil and be of service to the people – not to lord over them. This is mainly because “your” public will be different than “my” public, although we are talking about the same Bhutanese people.

Public policy analysis or regulatory impact assessments are complex subjects. So I will present you a tool, which is a set of three questions that you can ask against before setting out to work on an expensive piece of legislation, policy or a regulation. The questions are:

1. What is the problem that this rule/policy provides the solution?

2. Whose problem is it anyway?

3. What other problems or consequences are likely to emerge as a result of this rule/policy?

Let’s take the example of the one-way street rule around the BOD, where cars coming from Chorten cannot shoot straight towards Lungtenzampa bridge – and instead have to take a trip along the Norzin Lam. What is the problem that this rule provides the solution? Possible traffic accidents that will involve car owners, police, insurance companies, etc. Whose problem is it anyway? The car owners, police, insurance companies. What other problems or consequences are likely to emerge as a result of this rule? Time waste, traffic jam, fuel consumption, pollution, frustrations, road rage, accidents. I estimated that just doing this stretch is costing our country, annually, Rs. 7,000,000 in fuel. I say “Rs” and not “Nu.” because we don’t produce petrol. Why are we burning this amount unnecessarily to avoid accidents that may or may not even happen? Thimphu has more than 30 such one-way streets. So you can imagine the cumulative amount wasted for nothing. Teach people to be civil and to drive responsibly.

Concern – Sovereignty and nation-building: As future leaders, you, more than any group have the added responsibility to fully understand the issue of sovereignty and nation-building. Both these tasks are a work-in-progress. And the moment we think that we can relax or be complacent we are in trouble. We cannot take sovereignty for granted. Nor can we think that nation-building is over. It is an unfinished business. For a small country, the geopolitics realities will remain the same. Only people will change. In this age of globalised economy and interconnected world, threats to sovereignty may also come from massive cyberattacks or economic dominance. As you take your positions in the civil service, you will need to keep these somewhere deep inside you – at all times. Don’t get caught off guarded.

My generation and the generations before me have brought the country till this point. Let me assure you that we have done our best. It may not be the best country in the world (we actually think it is) but we have given our best. What you do or where you want to take the country in your time is up to you.

I wish you all the fun when you are here. Out there some unfinished business is waiting for you.


(photo: RIM Website)

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