Ten propositions about public leadership

Hartley, Jean (2018). Ten propositions about public leadership. International Journal of Public Leadership, 14(4) pp. 202–217.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/ijpl-09-2018-0048


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of some pressing but under-researched aspects of public leadership. Ten propositions about public leadership are set out and these are intended to be thought-provoking and even controversial in order to stimulate researchers to design research which addresses key theoretical and practical questions about leadership in the public sphere. They will also help practitioners navigate an increasingly complex leadership context.

Design/methodology/approach – This invited essay uses ten propositions about public leadership, selected from three sources: the leadership literature, the author’s own research and from collaborative research discussions with academics, policy makers and practitioners.

Findings – The first proposition argues for distinguishing public leadership from public service leadership given that the former is about leadership of the public sphere. Other propositions concern context; purpose; conflict and contest at the heart of public leadership; leadership with political astuteness; dual leadership; leadership projections; fostering resilience; leadership, authority and legitimacy; and the challenge to researchers to use research designs which reflect the complexity and dynamism of public leadership.

Practical implications – While this essay is primarily addressed to researchers, there are many ideas and concepts which practising leaders will find insightful and useful in their work.

Originality/value – This essay draws on deep experience in undertaking high-quality academic research about public leadership which draws from and feeds into policy and practice. It utilises organisational psychology, public management and political science to create synergies in order to enhance the understanding of public leadership.

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