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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 28 May 2020

Summary and Keywords

The nature and evolution of the field of studies of public sector leadership can be understood by focusing on four theoretical orientations: institutional, transformational, collaborative, and contingent. The first one argues that, within a democracy, public sector executives do not exercise—or should not exercise—a strong leadership. The second one, on the contrary, stresses their “transformational” role. The third orientation favors more horizontal leading styles, while the last one argues that all the previous types of leadership could emerge depending on the specific conditions. Each of these four orientations takes a specific position toward change and has led to a considerable number of books and articles. This clearly shows that leadership is an important issue in the study of the public sector. It also shows the theoretical fragmentation present in this field and that there is not a fit-all type of leadership. Paradoxically, there is still a noticeable lack of research on some topics, such as the causes and effects of leadership. Thus, there is not a clear understanding yet of the extent to which leading within government makes a positive difference and, in case it does, of how to make it happen. Filling these voids would certainly help this field to gain greater relevance within the wider field of leadership studies as well as in the social sciences in general.

Keywords: leadership, leading, public sector, government, state, change, institutional, contingent, transformational, public administration and policy

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