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Effective leadership in public administration: "The great leader is seen as servant first", Robert K. Greenleaf

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  1. Leadership and public administration
    1. A problematic concept
    2. The need for a specific leadership in public administration
  2. Public administration and leadership in a changing world
    1. How must the leader act with his environment?
    2. What must the public administrative leader avoid?

Globalization, decentralization, economic uncertainties, and other contemporary challenges ask for a new kind of governance and a new role for public agents in every country. Governments have to reshape the public sector to cope with this environment that requires civil servants to assume new missions. With this aim in view, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development proposed in 2001, to create and re-inforce a model of public sector leadership. Nevertheless, what a model of public sector leadership could be, remains unclear. If leadership can characterize political leaders, speaking about leadership in the public administration means dealing with high-ranking civil servants, often regarded as reserved and discrete. The following work is about what an effective leader in the public administration is. First, after a review of some definitions of leadership and the problem they pose for the public administration, the main characteristics of a specific leadership model in the public sector will be evoked. In the second part, this model will be more concretely linked with the new needs of administration as a very specific organization, and with the needs of society. It will be the occasion to stress some of the limits and conditions attached to leadership in public administrations.

[...] The characteristics of the leader in public administration In theory, leadership in administration appears to be a transforming leadership. Burns actually distinguishes two kind of leadership, according to the relationship that exists between the leader and his or her followers: the transforming leadership and the transactional leadership (Burns 1978: 19-20). The latter is based on an exchange of interests between the leader and the followers. In public service, where employees are supposed to be devoted to people and common good, such seek for mutual interest is not desirable. [...]


[...] Studies of leadership in the public administration focus on organization alone, and on the role of the leader as manager in the organization and as an educator for the values it embodies. After working on the subject, I think this approach is incomplete. High-ranking civil-servants, in spite of their high education and experience, are not only educators, they are learners; they must remain students themselves during their entire career. They must demonstrate great courage in their will to change the system and in their will to learn and to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. [...]


[...] Moreover, an institution like the public administration is supposed to answer to the needs of a changing society, which requires the administration to evolve hand in hand with society, an evolution that requires leadership skills as they have been seen previously. Having the same formation among high-ranking civil servants makes the work easier, because it creates habits in the way of proceeding. Nevertheless, it does not mean that people think the same. The work is often more efficient if personalities and opinions differ; different approaches on issues allow one to find the best possible solution for each specific problem. [...]

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