What is the value of leadership to an organisation?  The answer could simply be that it depends on whether it is effective or ineffective leadership.   If we take this proposition a few steps back, the question is further simplified – what is leadership? And is it the same as management?


Abraham Zaleznik, Konosuke Proffessor of Leadership Emeritus at Harvard Business School started the debate by defining roles of managers and leaders and then asking the question ‘Are they different?’ Zaleznik observed that ‘managerial culture emphasises rationality and control’.  Furthermore, a manager is someone whose energy is directed towards goals, resources, organisations structures, or people.  A manager is a problem solver.  Leadership on the other hand, is a psychodrama in which a brilliant, lonely person must gain control of self as a precondition for controlling others.  Zaleznik concluded that managers and leaders are very different kinds of people who differ in motivation, personal history, and how they think and act.[1]


Building on Zaleznik’s work, Kotter[2] extends the debate to provide a much more current and simpler account of their differences.  Management is about coping with the complexity; it brings order and predictability to a situation.  Leadership is about adapting and learning to cope with rapid change.


The opportunity to use the work of people like Kotter, Zaleznik, Goleman[3], Drucker[4] and Heifetz[5] as leadership frameworks within the Government Ministries is critical because of the need to not only develop managers but most importantly, to develop leadership of, current managers, and especially those aspiring leaders in the frontline who want to move into management positions.


Appropriately these opportunities need to be viewed alongside some of the real challenges facing each of the Ministries which have impacted on their ability or inability to implement leadership development activities and programmes in the public sector.


Firstly, each Ministry has different Ministers responsible for setting key priorities and this could have some influence on where leadership development sits in the priority list.  Secondly, each Ministry has different Chief Executives with differing styles of leadership and management, perspectives and priorities.  Finally, all are governed by the rule of scarce resources. What they perceive as important and top of their priorities will take precedence.


There is already precedence for collaboration in regards to growing leadership within the public sector.  The Leadership Development Centre Trust was established by public service chief executives in 2003.[6]  The mission is to develop leaders who effectively lead the public sector and achieve results for New Zealanders.   While its target audience is generally at the higher end of management, an opportunity to use this as a platform for producing great leadership from bottom up is possible.


This research project begins with a very broad assumption.  The assumption is that leadership development in the public sector is not only uncoordinated and fragmented but in some instances not occurring.  This assumption is based on personal experience and anecdotal evidence that frontline staff are transitioning into management positions with little or no previous management/leadership experiences or training.


The core policy problem is: 


How can policy influence and address the gaps in leadership development within the public sector taking into account some of the challenges such as fragmentation and alignment.  Also, how can individual Ministries, led by their CEO, work collaboratively to address this policy gap but also set in motion a standardise and sustainable programme for developing leadership from bottom up.

Addressing these problems literally starts within the New Zealand public sector, using comparative institutional analysis, to draw on the date from reviews undertaken by the State Services Commission as part of the Performance Improvement Frameworks (PIF)[7] from following Ministries:


  • Ministry of Social Development (MSD)
  • Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs (MPIA)
  • Ministry of Economic Development (MED)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)
  • Ministry of Maori Development – Te Puni Kokiri (TPK)


There are two specific areas of the PIF that I will be looking and gathering data as part of the addressing the policy problems:


  • Leadership and Governance – how well does the senior team provide collective leadership and direction to the agency?
  • Leadership and Workforce Development – how well does the agency develop its workforce (including its leadership)? How does the agency anticipate and respond to future capability requirements?[8]


The comparison of these two key elements will shed light on the alignments or inconsistencies within each Ministry in how they view and grow leadership at governance level and leadership at a workforce level.  Another interesting observation that will come from this comparative approach is the consistencies or inconsistency of how each Chief Executive leads and prioritises leadership development at governance and workforce levels.

[1] Zaleznik, A. Managers and Leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1977.

[2] Kotter, J.  What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review, 1990.

[3] Goleman,D. What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review, January 2004.

[4] Drucker, P. What Makes an Effective Executive.  Harvard Business Review, June 2004.

[5] Heifetz, A. & Laurie, D. The Work of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, December 2001.

[6] Leadership Development Centre,


[7] Performance Improvement Framework,

[8] ibid

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