Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Furthering Public Leadership

In the research project ‘Furthering public leadership’ the Leiden Leadership Centre collaborates with several public organisations in order to obtain academic insights on public leadership and to develop leadership in practice. This allows for evidence-based development of public leadership and direct application of academic research to leadership practice.

2020 - 2024
Ben Kuipers

Ministry of Justice and Security with its subdivisions: Custodial Institutions Agency and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service, National Police, Social Insurance Bank, Municipality of The Hague, Municipality of Leiden, Dutch Senior Civil Service, and the Leiden Leadership Centre.

Public organisations face various societal challenges. The development of effective tools to respond to those challenges requires that organisations are able to operationalise the meaning of societal issues and apply it to their own working environment. Additionally, in dealing with societal challenges, public organisations should be capable of collaborating with multiple stakeholders, such as other public parties as well as private organisations and interest groups. Although the nature of issues may vary across the several public partnerorganisations, overall, the challenges faced go hand in hand with a multiplicity of dilemmas that have direct implications for the role and functioning of leadership.

In conducting this research, three main themes have been identified:
•    Public leadership: Shared leadership within teams and organisations and how this creates public value
•    Public leadership and public value creation: Collaborative leadership in chains and networks
•    Public leadership in dynamic organisations: Change leadership throughout the organisation

These three themes are further examined in three PhD trajectories. The research findings will subsequently be shared and used in various ways. The communication of intermediate results to the participating public organisations will be organized by means of written research reports, presentations and internal workshops. The creation of knowledge exchange communities aims to connect themes beyond the research projects and to share experience and knowledge on how to facilitate the development of leadership. Furthermore, several network events are being organized in the context of this research, such as Leiden Leadership Lunches, news items on social media, conferences and workshops.

Creating public value means that employees of an organisation are constantly aware of the societal impact of their work and that they incorporate this vision into their everyday tasks. In contrast to strictly following rules and procedures, the perspective adopted while creating public value is about executing the intention of the law. Depending on their tasks, strong differences may exist between teams and departments in the challenges they face in executing their work properly. Consequently, they may struggle in various ways with their part in contributing to public value. Starting from the multiple different teams and different fields of work, creating public value requires that constant work is to be put into finding a balance between the letter of the law and the intention with which laws were drafted. Such dilemmas bring forward difficult choices and considerations in which leadership plays a crucial role within teams and on all organisational levels. Moral foundations and ethical considerations appeal to personal leadership behaviour of all employees while ethics and morality also gain their meaning in the shared setting of teams.

Due to the complexity of societal issues, public organisations increasingly collaborate in chains and networks in order to create public value. Sometimes citizens cope with multiple problems that surpass the responsibility of a single organisation. The different forms of collaboration demand leadership and responsibility that transcends organisational boundaries. Responsibilities are shared by multiple actors, the different interests of involved parties in the chain are weighed against each other, and roles and tasks in collaborative public service delivery are divided.

For this research project various collaborations and organisational networks are identified that relate to societal issues which involve a broad range of stakeholders with numerous – and sometimes opposing – interests. The diverse collaborations and expressions of leadership behaviour will be studied while also paying attention to the societal effects and stakeholder groups. The interpretation and efficacy of various leadership forms and roles will be compared across organisations and collaborative initiatives. Additionally, interventions for leadership development will be tested.

Public organisations are increasingly expected to be agile in responding to a changing and complex environment. This environment consistently provides new challenges and developments, and, therefore, it has important implications for the ways in which public organisations operate and fulfill their purpose. The current tendency to convey more responsibility to citizens and clients requires professionals to reconsider their roles. For that reason, organisations seek new ways of organising that help to enhance the operating space of professionals and increase the flexibility of an organisation to be responsive towards new societal developments. Organisations have to make choices on what tasks will be executed in a centralized or in a decentralized way. The function, position and desired competencies of formal leaders is changing due to external developments and organizational processes. Moreover, leaders have a key function in the implementation, initiation and stimulation of change in organisations – there is an important interplay within and between organisational levels. Public leaders have to find an appropriate balance between attaining agility and flexibility with the existing requirement of responsible, predictable and controllable governance– both internally and externally. 

In this research project change leadership is considered as a multi-level issue in which the relations and interactions between actors at all levels affect the modes of change. We will study the interactions of leadership behaviour at different organizational levels and their effects on the flexibility of individuals and organisations as a whole. During the project we account for the various organisational contexts and the way in which, on the one hand, bureaucratic structures and, on the other hand, change and its scale of impact (e.g. process change versus a crisis), play a role in the function and the effects of leadership. Insights on effective change leadership will also be used for field experiments which are aimed to directly influence the effectiveness of leadership behavior in daily practice. 

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