To read this content please select one of the options below:

Leaping into public leadership

Afsaneh Nahavandi (Department of Leadership Studies, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA)
Lyn Corbett (Department of Leadership Studies, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 14 August 2018

Issue publication date: 19 October 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the reasons for and consequences of leaders moving from other sectors to the public arena and provide guidelines for successful transitions to the public sector.


The paper relies on a conceptual analysis of leadership theory, critical reasoning and several examples to explore the phenomenon the authors call Leadership Leap (LL).


The paper explores the context, antecedents, causes and consequences of LL. The leaders’ self-confidence, ego and hubris are often considered to be the reason for leaping to an unfamiliar sector; however, the causes are much more complex. The authors suggest that in addition to the leaders’ personal characteristics, LL is encouraged by a culture of celebrity, excessive focus on the leaders and a longing for heroes. Ignoring or disregarding the context and overestimating the need for revolutionary change further exacerbate LL. The authors consider conditions for success and suggest areas for future research.


We are increasingly witnessing leaders who are successful and considered experts in one sector transition into the public sector. Although some are successful, others face obstacles and fail to live up to expectations. The unique characteristics of public leadership, specifically the collective nature of the sector and the crucial role of context and systems, provide a particular challenge for LL in the sector.



The authors would like to thank Ali R. Malekzadeh of Roosevelt University, and Hans Schmitz and Yang Jiang of the University of San Diego for them comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


Nahavandi, A. and Corbett, L. (2018), "Leaping into public leadership", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 218-231.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles