Stephen Brookes and Keith Grint, Eds. The New Public Leadership Challenge.


Stephen Brookes and Keith Grint, Eds. The New Public Leadership Challenge. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

book coverThe English/British Civil Service is a venerable institution that has left its imprint around the world, particularly where there was British colonial rule. In the intervening years there have been many changes in those cultures where it was established: India, Malaysia, Kenya, Belize – to mention but a few. Those changes have been the product of nationalized political cultures, the changing global economy, war at many levels, the growth of an indigenous elite, and many other factors. But to think this institution has remained stable in the face of such changes would be an error. As political and economic tides have shifted in the United Kingdom, so has public service.

In recent years there have been at least four phases of National Public Management (NPM): the efficiency model, downsizing and decentralization, a model of excellence, and a public service orientation. While these themes may be familiar to those in other public sector contexts, they lay the foundation for this work that calls for a shift from NPM to National Public Leadership.

I found this report/analysis to be particularly refreshing. For one, it finds the distinction between managing and leading to be useful. Managing is bout coping with relatively tame problems, while leading “is about coping with wicked problems involving complexity and change.” In the former the problem can be solved by removing them from their context, returning them and moving on with minimal impact on the context. In the case of the latter the problems cannot be treated in isolation. They are embedded in the system.

In comprehending leadership (and evaluating it) two choice are offered here. First is that of social constructivism, the second realism. The former shifts our attention from individual as leader to leadership as a collective phenomenon. The latter focuses on “the relationship between context, mechanism (intervention) and outcome, and explores the connections between the three. Both, an integralist will be readily aware, are useful – to be transcended and included in an understanding of leadership.

This introductory chapter by the editors suggest a dual but not incompatible lens on leadership: vertical or distributed leadership and horizontal or shared leadership across organizational boundaries. Combined with the systemic and culture/climate awareness provided in their discussion. This small volume offers some of the best applied approaches to public sector leadership available. The wide range of chapters paint a clear picture of the context of public leadership in the United Kingdom and lay a foundation for promoting National Public Leadership. It argues for a collective approach with attention to individual development for leader roles. And it argues for evaluation based on public service.