Dilemmas of Leadership

Paul Joyce (Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 December 2006



Joyce, P. (2006), "Dilemmas of Leadership", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 19 No. 7, pp. 715-716. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513550610704725



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book was not written for the public sector but it does introduce a very interesting idea which is worth considering by public sector leaders and managers. This is the idea that leaders have to handle dilemmas. According to them (2006, p. 3): Every leader faces dilemmas, because leadership involves tough decisions, for which there are no obvious answers. We argue that anyone can prepare for tough decisions, in ways which make for better informed decisions. This is the basis for personal leadership development … .” As we see, Rickards and Clark define dilemmas as issues that are important but hard‐to‐resolve, and they go on to suggest that leaders make decisions which are commitments to act rather than solutions.

Just in case you think the idea of leadership dilemmas is interesting but unlikely to inform leadership development in public services, you might be interested to know that the Dutch civil service recently (2004) designed a leadership development programme, known as the SPS Candidates Programme, based on the assumption that government executives face dilemmas. This programme was, in fact, designed around six specific paradoxes that could be explored as dilemmas that were experienced by senior civil servants. Potential entrants to the programme were told that they would investigate which were easy to handle and which were difficult and that they would be able to connect these dilemmas to personal competencies and also to their stage of personal development. The labels for the paradoxes identified in the programme included “risky security”, “leadership in service” and “autonomous collaboration”.

Returning to Rickards and Clark's book, they offer a useful survey of existing ideas in the leadership literature. I particularly liked their inclusion of Jay Conger's ideas on misguided and unbalanced leaders. They note the chief features of this leadership pathology: the individual has a strong belief in the rightness of their vision, and, as a result, they shift from being single‐minded to being obsessive. They become trapped by strategic vision, and are no longer open to fresh information. Their leadership communications become less authentic, and they resort to exclusion and stereotyping to handle resistance.

I also liked the fact that they provided some summaries of research evaluating the effectiveness of leadership development programmes. For example, they have evidence on the effectiveness of programmes by the Center of Creative Leadership. In this case, leadership development involved personal awareness exercises, psychometrics, and facilitated feedback. One study they cite, of 84 respondents participating in programmes over the period April‐November 2002, suggested gains around self‐awareness and leadership capacity.

In summary, it's a useful book because it highlights leadership dilemmas, because of its inclusion of a wide range of ideas from the leadership literature and because it addresses (to some extent) the need for evidence of impact by leadership development programmes.

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