This is the abstract of a newly published article, in which I discuss the idea of leadership: it has appeared under the title of “Leadership”: a perniciously vague concept, International Journal of Public Sector Management 25(1) 34-47.
Purpose – Despite the vast amount of literature covering the concept of leadership, it remains contentious, under-conceptualised and often uncritical. The purpose of this paper is to question the validity of the concept and dispute its application.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper reviews what the idea of leadership means, how it relates to competing accounts of management in the public services, and what value it adds.
Findings – There is no evident reason why the supposed roles, tasks, or qualities of “leadership” either need to be or should be concentrated in the person of a leader; the tasks involved in “leading” an organisation are not in fact the tasks of motivation, influence or direction of others which are at the core of the literature; and there is no reason to suppose that leadership is a primary influence on the behaviour of most organisations.
Practical implications – In the context of the public services, there is no set of skills, behaviours or roles that could be applied across the public services; the emphasis in leadership theory on personal relationships may be inconsistent with the objectives and character of the service; and the arrogation to a public service manager of a leadership role may be illegitimate.
Originality/value – The argument here represents a fundamental challenge to the concept of leadership, its relevance and its application to public services.