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What Is Public about Public Leadership? Exploring Implicit Public Leadership Theories

9 October 2019 at 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Room 304a, Campus on Viale Romania, 32

Speaker: Rick Vogel, University of Hamburg


While scholarly theories about public leadership have recently begun to take root in public administration, little is known about the everyday theories that laypersons hold about public leaders. A socio-cognitive approach suggests that mental representations of typical or ideal characteristics of leaders (i.e., implicit leadership theories or ILTs) provide important explanations of how followers respond to leadership situations. We pioneer the study of implicit public leadership theories (IPLTs) and extract a taxonomy of prototypical traits of public leaders from an online survey experiment in Germany (n = 1,072). The results of factor analyses reveal the emergence of specific public leadership prototypes. Measurement invariance analyses show that they have overlaps with generic ILTs but are unique in terms of higher levels of rule abiding and lower levels of innovating. In contrast, charismatic aspects of leadership only figure in generic ILTs. The structure of ILTs – both generic and public – is surprisingly stable across the subsamples of public and private employees. We discuss how the findings may assist public management scholars in the development of explicit theories of public leadership and practitioners in the improvement of leadership skills in the public sector.