An exploration of chief executives' conceptions of successful leadership in the Scottish public sector
This thesis explores leadership in context. In particular, through an analysis of texts and interviews, it explores the meanings of successful leadership for leaders of public bodies in post-devolution Scotland. In the first stage of the research, 140 documents were examined in order to inform the context in detail. Analysis of these documents found contrasting messages. The language emanating from pro-devolution interest groups, government departments and public bodies promoted a discourse consistent with the ideas of transformational leadership and new public management. These documents reflected the promise that devolution would herald "new ways different from the rituals of Westminster". However, in media news stories referring to executive departure, a contrasting language reflecting far from transformational action was found. These sources suggest that Scottish public service CEOs are treated as scapegoats for failure. In the second stage of the research, in-depth interviews were employed to explore constructions of successful leadership held by leaders of Scottish public organisations. The 21 participants were all current or former chief executives of public bodies, appointed by ministers to lead organisations involved in the provision of a range of public services in Scotland. As indicated in the discourses of the media, the CEOs reported that a culture of blame and risk aversion dominates the Scottish public services. This culture is particularly prevalent in the political and civil service domains. The chief executives believed that transformational, visionary and charismatic approaches to leadership to be an idealistic form of leadership, incompatible with the leadership requirements of a Scottish public body. CEOs reported that, rather than having collective responsibility, they are individually blamed for failure or poor performance in the public services. To be successful leaders, CEOs stated that they required support or endorsement from important stakeholders in order to be able to take the leadership decisions crucial for success. They conceptualised this support in terms of "credit". Identifying a variety of stakeholders, CEOs stated that, through a process of exchange relationships with government ministers, the chair of their organisation and senior civil servants, credit had to be built with these important stakeholders. In their view this credit is the key to successful leadership. This thesis therefore explores this construct in depth. A model describing the processes which contribute to the development, and erosion, of credit is presented. This principally concerns the management of relationships, profile and performance in order to develop positive stakeholder perceptions about personal and organisational attributes and credibility. The transformational leadership paradigm has been dominant for over two decades. It is frequently presented in a way that depicts transformational action as morally superior to a transactional alternative. However, the findings show that, in an environment in which a risk-averse blame culture dominates, transactional social exchange, such as the appropriate use of political behaviour and impression management to raise personal and organisational visibility and profile, in order to build credit, is a more apposite paradigm for successful leadership. It is here that that this thesis makes its primary contribution. The consequences for public sector chief executives, and the implications for the public sector generally, are considered, and suggestions made for further research.