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Local political leadership: from managerial performances to leaders-hip hop on social media?

Alessandro Sancino (Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK ) (Department of Business and Law, University of Milan–Bicocca, Milan, Italy)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 30 April 2021

Issue publication date: 14 July 2021




The paper discusses the evolution of leadership practices performed by local political leaders in the last decade (2009–2019, a period which we might call post-global financial crisis and pre-COVID-19). It offers some new theoretical concepts to make sense of emerging contemporary public leadership practices, namely: leaders-hip hop; charismatic followership; and digital fabrication of charisma (digital charisma).


The paper is based on a single case study, and it relies on qualitative data coming from multiple sources and collected at different points of time, specifically interviews, participant and non-participant observations from an ethnography conducted in 2009; interviews conducted between 2019 and 2020, and an analysis of the posts made within one Facebook group between February and May 2016.


The paper focuses on three stories of local political leadership at three different points in time which describe three leadership practices: political managerialism; charismatic followership; and hands-on relational leadership. It highlights the importance of hands-on relational leadership through popular acts of leadership which are performed face to face and/or on social media and the shift in the dominant technologies of local political leadership from the logic of managerialism toward the logic of social media.

Research limitations/implications

The paper is focused on a limited temporal (2009–2019) and sociocultural context (North Italy). Findings are presented as three stories, although other ways of showing qualitative data could have been used.

Practical implications

Practical implications deal with the attempt to enable a reflexive view of local governance and public leadership attentive to soft and sociocultural variables. It is important to consider these implications for the purposes of training and learning.


The paper introduces new concepts to understand contemporary public leadership practices; it combines insights from a decentered theory of governance and collective theories of leadership; and it makes use of storytelling as a method for analyzing and reporting the findings.



The author would like to thank the special issue editors, the anonymous reviewers and all the participants at the workshop on “Decentering Local Leadership” which was held at the University of Berkeley, California, on Friday September 13, 2019. This work was presented in a preliminary version at that workshop and benefited very much from the intensive discussion and all the constructive and thoughtful comments received.


Sancino, A. (2021), "Local political leadership: from managerial performances to leaders-hip hop on social media?", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 283-297.



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