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Is selfless leadership an impossible ideal for public leaders?

Stephen Brookes (Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 10 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to introduce the notion of the “Selfless Leader” and to pose the question as to whether this is an impossible ideal. It locates the importance of values within the context of public leadership and puts forward a new perspective on principle-based leadership that incorporates selflessness as its foundation.

Design/methodology/approach

It primarily involves a literature review in relation to the importance of virtues and values based on an historical review, and the wider language of leadership. It draws briefly upon primary research based on realistic evaluation (Pawson and Tilley, 1997) across a range of public service organisations in various differing contexts but is, primarily, a conceptual paper aimed at encouraging further debate and research.

Findings

Given the fact that we are innately selfish, the requirement to lead in the public interest provides a real challenge for all leaders particularly as leaders are encouraged more towards achievement of competitive advantage, rather than collaborative advantage. The paper will suggest that values-based leadership is highly relevant to the challenges facing public leaders, and will present a principle-based framework for the practice and processes of public leadership.

Research limitations/implications

The paper seeks to generate a debate in relation to principle-based leadership that incorporates selflessness as its foundation, primarily through a literature review but supported by selected findings from a range of research projects in the area of public leadership.

Practical implications

The approach to realistic evaluation is helpful, not only as a research methodology, but also in relation to the development and assessment of leadership practice.

Social implications

This is considered to represent a unique approach to the study of leading in the public interest by focusing on the concept of selflessness.

Originality/value

This is considered to represent a unique approach to the study of leading in the public interest by focusing on the concept of selflessness.

Keywords

Citation

Brookes, S. (2014), "Is selfless leadership an impossible ideal for public leaders?", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 200-216. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLPS-08-2014-0014

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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