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Stewardship of public service renewal and reform

John Wilkins (Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 10 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to examine how stewardship of public service renewal and reform is changing and influencing contemporary public leadership.


The literature is reviewed to close the gap between theory and international practice. New evidence from innovation awards, scenario building, surveys, and interviews help demystify leadership dynamics.


International stakeholders remain unconvinced about the role of leadership and claim that public service behaviour cannot be predicted. Scholars maintain that collaborative leadership prevails in thought and practice over the transformational leadership of the New Public Management era. Innovation and stewardship are particularly important aspects of values-based leadership in times of uncertainty. Emerging evidence and patterns of stewardship in public service renewal and reform confirm that “where leaders stand depends upon where they sit”.

Research limitations/implications

Leadership practice is running ahead of theory. Research does not differentiate the roles and impact of leaders at the centre, front, and middle of government. Action research is needed to fill knowledge gaps and make the business case for leadership development.

Practical implications

Role, capacity, and ethical considerations frame the implications for public leaders. Middle managers play a strategic role in networking government for change. Good governance depends upon developing their strategic leadership competencies and values.

Social implications

In turn, where nations stand on the economic ladder depends upon strategic development of their public service. Turning individual competence into organizational capacity requires institutional change.


Leaders in the middle are increasingly instrumental as change makers and disciples of reform in today's networked government. Harnessing their leadership capabilities is integral to stewardship of public service renewal and reform.



Wilkins, J. (2014), "Stewardship of public service renewal and reform", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 188-199.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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