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Leadership and innovation in the public sector

Sandford Borins (University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 December 2002



This article considers the nature and role of leadership in three ideal types of public management innovation: politically‐led responses to crises, organizational turnarounds engineered by newly‐appointed agency heads, and bottom‐up innovations initiated by front‐line public servants and middle managers. Quantitative results from public sector innovation awards indicate that bottom‐up innovation occurs much more frequently than conventional wisdom would indicate. Effective political leadership in a crisis requires decision making that employs a wide search for information, broad consultation, and skeptical examination of a wide range of options. Successful leadership of a turnaround requires an agency head to regain political confidence, reach out to stakeholders and clients, and to convince dispirited staff that change is possible and that their efforts to do better will be supported. Political leaders and agency heads can create a supportive climate for bottom‐up innovation by consulting staff, instituting formal awards and informal recognition for innovators, promoting innovators, protecting innovators from control‐oriented central agencies, and publicly championing bottom‐up innovations that have proven successful and have popular appeal.



Borins, S. (2002), "Leadership and innovation in the public sector", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 23 No. 8, pp. 467-476.




Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited

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