Elected Local Government Leadership Development

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Elected Local Government Leadership Development
Robert J. Dickey Kyongju University, S. Korea Email: rjdickey@soback.kornet.net

Introduction Most of us are at least passively aware of the BBC comedy series "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister." Margaret Thatcher has been quoted as saying "it's accurate portrayl (sic) of what goes on in the corridors of power has brought me hours of pure joy".1 What does this 1980s era political satire have to do with the issue of leadership development of elected public officials, particularly at the local government level? The fumbling and naïve efforts of the recently empowered minister (and later Prime Minister) the Right Honorable James Hacker, and the wily bureaucratic machinations of Sir Humphrey Appleby, his Permanent Secretary, seem a fair depiction of the process how many public officials learn the craft of government leadership: through the process of many "lost battles" with the permanent staff they are expected to lead. There are supposed to be other ways to develop leadership in elected local government. The focus of this paper is the (mostly non-political) leadership of government: leading other elected officials, the senior public management, the public service as a whole, and the community at large. Brief Overview of the Leadership Literature The number of papers, books, and presentations on leadership is simply staggering. In a paper presented before the 2002 American Society of Public Administration conference, Montgomery Van Wart (forthcoming) provides an excellent overview on leadership studies in general, and offers insight on where leadership studies in the public sector have taken us over the past few decades. He refers to Bass (1990), where "over 7,500 empirical and quasi-empirical references were cited" (Van Wart, forthcoming), as well as comments by Ralph Stogdill, James McGregor Burns and Warren Bennis concerning our lack of knowledge about leadership despite years of study. Others, including Saner (2001, who quotes Hofstede 1980 with approval), observe that leadership outside of the US adds additional factors typically overlooked in mainstream leadership discussions. Carl and Javidan (2001) observe that the vast literature on the relationship between culture and leadership styles "points to a major divergence in views regarding the universality or culture-specificity of leadership effectiveness." The cyclical nature of interest in leadership has been noted by many, including Van Wart (forthcoming), who found that, over the life of Public Administration Review, there were only 25 articles with an explicit focus on leadership, "about four per decade, on average." It would seem the leadership issue is far more popular in the business sector than in public management. Van Wart also notes that there are numerous training

programs for leaders at all levels of government (ibid), which becomes important in discussion of what is known about leadership, and what can be learned. The leadership literature is filled with references to the question of whether leaders are "born" or can be "made." Opinions range from those that claim it is impossible to train leaders (see Pitcher, 1997, for a representative view) to the opposite extreme, "that each person has leadership potential, and that the capabilities of leadership can be and are learned" (Korac-Kakabadse and Korac-Kakabadse, 1997:436, citing Bennis and Nanus, 1985, and Kakabadse, 1991). Others state "There are no known ways to 'train' great leaders" (Zaleznik, 1990:65), or claim that leaders must be developed over a longer term of work-related opportunities (see Bolt, 1996, Weber, 1996 and Kotter, 1996), or go still further, arguing that it is not just training and the traditionally defined leadership opportunity that is needed for future leadership, but opportunities for experimentation in leadership (Saner, 2001:660). Cacioppe (1997: 343) suggests that "the development of leadership may be in a different...
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