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Leadership Credibility, Board Relations, and Administrative Innovation at the Local Government Level.

The analysis of what leaders do, what roles they perform, and what functions they serve has a long if tenuous history in public administration. Classical management had the executive firmly ensconced, leading the organization in a top-down format with a special emphasis on span of control and unity of command (Gulick and Urwick 1937). This conception of the leader, as the one responsible for melding disparate members of an organization into a committed polity, was also espoused by Philip Selznick (1957 and 1965). Thus, the general recognition of leadership as integral to the success, effectiveness, and even survival of organizations can be found as a focal theme in public administration, both early and recently.

Nonetheless, the available public administration literature devoted to developing a coherent theoretical framework that can facilitate focused empirical research is underwhelming, with few exceptions (e.g., Bryson and Crosby 1992; Svara 1994; Terry 1995). In fact, leadership theory has more often been associated with positive sounding yet shallow platitudes of do-good management (Covey 1990; Bennis and Nanus 1985; Blanchard and Johnson 1982). Some critics point out that most research on leadership explains very little in terms of employee job satisfaction or in work performance (Perrow 1986).

Hence the focal question here relates to whether we can improve on the emaciated condition of public leadership theory. Do employees and policy makers connected with specific local public organizations exhibit an association between the perceived leadership credibility of their chief administrative officers (CAOs) and perceptions of intergroup cooperation and conflict, management innovation, and service performance? In other words, to what degree are leaders perceived as making a difference--apart from other factors that may influence outcomes (e.g., Kaufman 1985; Cohen and March 1974)?

This article permits some optimism, with caveats, about a useful public leadership theory. It reports the results of one small study concerning the associations that local government professional staff and elected policy makers perceive between specific leadership characteristics and aspects of innovation--intergroup cooperation, success of administrative reform, and productivity. Does a specific scale of leadership credibility (LC) associate with other desired organizational constructs? This article does find a modicum of support for such associations. Namely, perceptions of high levels of LC toward the CAO associate with higher levels of perceived innovation, intergroup cooperation, and better service performance. This does not imply a direct causal relationship between LC and organizational performance, but it does suggest that credible leaders in the public organizations in this specific study do associate consistently in the expected direction with select attitudinal variables that are related to organizational effectiveness.


One recent treatment of the state of public administration as a profession (Golembiewski 1995) argues that the public service is under severe attack both intellectually and politically by those who would prefer to hollow government. Big government relies on bureaucratic traditions that are seen as stagnant, ineffectual, and incompetent by the hollowers, with perhaps Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government (1992) providing the most ambitious call to arms. Whether or not one agrees with their thesis that entrepreneurial competition can renew lackluster governmental agencies, the attractiveness of this argument has led to political action (Gore 1996). Government organizations are under fire at all levels, and they have responded early with crafted reforms that range from privatizing traditional public services to treating citizens as customers. Typically, such reform retains the bureaucratic model (Golembiewski 1995, 59-83), and the development of leadership theory is left to proceed by definition and anecdote.

In defense of the status quo and in reaction to the hollowers, some public administrationists have responded with passionate hallowing (Goodsell 1994; Wamsley et al., 1990). Fundamentally, the hallowers usually retain the existing structure as the vehicle for doing well enough, but they do not perceive any irony in making this assumption. For example, in the one major attempt to develop a leadership model from the hallower perspective, Larry Terry (1995) describes the ideal public leader as conservator, as one comfortable working with incremental solutions while striving to maintain what is good in the status quo. But Terry does not explain how such leaders can adapt contemporary public organizations to the sea changes taking place all around them and do this without stepping outside the authorized bureaucratic boundaries they are ethically committed to maintain. Instead of serving as robust change agents, Terry's conservators become managers of routine.

In sharp contrast, a new perspective on leadership is emerging from schools of business rather than from the public administration academy. The business literature embraces the need for a robust, energetic, mission-driven leadership as central to organizational success and change. Comparatively, Terry (1995) rejects this emerging perspective (Bass 1985; Bennis and Nanus 1985; Tichy and Devanna 1986) as overly dependent on the hero motif, where the leader is charged with radically transforming the organization. Here, Terry contends, leaders are considered successful only if they implement revolutionary changes and move away from established traditions. Terry argues that the business model of leadership is unrealistic for the public sector. That these leaders are expected to move away from long-established traditions bothers Terry, who believes that these same traditions provide a sense of identity and ethical roots for professional civil servants.

This brief comparison between the business approach and the public-sector approach to leadership suggests that some major differences regarding the expectations of leaders exist between the sectors. Historically, public administration seems to advocate a leadership model based on stewardship and incremental change, coupled with a strong deference to elected political officials, in which policy mandates get translated into action via bureaucratic agencies. This reflects a cautious approach: "discretion is the better part of valor." And there may be good reasons this constrained leadership approach has been so widely embraced by public administrators. As a former city manager said to one of the authors, "Most city managers learn to become introverts, because extroverts do not last too long."

One ironic flaw inheres in the constrained leadership model. How can public leaders who behave this way inspire rather substantial change and movement away from the status quo? If traditional public leaders are conservators of the existing order, how can they transform or reinvent public organizations into a system based on new values of management and organization design? At best, such leaders may strive to finesse change by essentially retaining existing systems, renaming them, and engaging in various kinds of tweaking strategies that provide temporary improvements. In our view, this model of leadership is simply not adequate to the task at hand; rapidly changing environmental conditions often demand that a leader become a major change agent. Thus in our view, the more robust business model of leadership appears to offer greater promise for providing the type of linkage between demands for change and organizational capacity that most public organizations will need in the not-so-distant future.

The present research design seeks to inform this critical choice. Succinctly stated, this article will assess the degree to which one major characteristic associated with a dynamic, mission-driven leadership model in the public sector coexists with perceptions of successful organizational innovation, change, and performance. Positive results can help guide public organizations in how they may cultivate more effective and credible leaders (McCauley, Moxley, and Van Velsor 1998). Positive results may also reinforce commitment to robust change models that are currently being implemented by some public organizations in turbulent environments (e.g., Golembiewski and Gabris 1994).


It will be a long time before this robust, energetic, mission-driven leadership model can be tested comprehensively, in business and especially in government, but we will make a start. By focusing on local governments, this study builds on the work of Kouzes and Posner (1988; 1993; 1996), who target a major facet of effective leadership: basically, they urge that successful leaders build and maintain credibility. In this study we ask: Might leadership credibility (LC) be a useful construct in the public sector or, to say the same thing in greater detail, will perceptions of differences in LC covary with perceptions of innovation among those responsible for the operations of local government?

Leadership credibility has face validity, as several conceptual details suggest. Chiefly, perhaps, LC incorporates characteristics that several authors espouse as crucial to the success of mission-driven leadership. Ever since James McGregor Burns' (1978) insightful treatment of the differences between transactional and transformational leadership, organizational researchers have been searching for ways to map as well as to induce the latter. What makes some leaders capable of transforming systems, while others merely maintain them--if they are lucky? Several students provide useful insights (e.g., Tichy and Devanna 1986), but Kouzes and Posner develop a relatively simple model that can be measured, tested, and taught.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) base their model on extensive personal and survey interview data, and they neatly summarize where most of the business leadership literature seems to be heading. In brief, employees want their leaders to be honest, competent, and forward looking. The umbrella term they use to capture the spirit of these preferences is credibility. To be effective change agents, leaders must be believed. Given these generalities, what specifics can be posited as a foundation for measuring and testing leadership characteristics that foster credibility? Kouzes and Posner detail five challenges and ten associated commitments that address this issue. Credible leaders follow exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1

Challenge the Process

1. Search for opportunities

2. Experiment and take risks

Inspire a Shared Vision

1. Envision the future

2. Enlist others

Enable Others to Act

1. Foster collaboration

2. Strengthen others

Model the Way

1. Set the example

2. Plan small wins

Encourage the Heart

1. Recognize individual accomplishment

2. Celebrate group success

Kouzes and Posner's leaders are change agents first, maintainers second. They make their own paths rather than take established routes; they continually search for opportunities and are fascinated by puzzles because they like to learn. And such leaders are where you find them. Senge (1996) notes that leaders can emerge from all levels of an organization, depending on the situation. A first-line supervisor may see an opportunity for improvement that more senior managers are blind to. Credible leaders also inspire a shared vision among employees while they enable others to act. Moreover, credible leaders model the way for employees by setting examples, and they also motivate employees by recognizing and celebrating individual accomplishments. As exhibit 1 shows, credibility depends on the presence of several complimentary characteristics that reinforce each other.

Conceptually, leadership credibility (LC) can be conceived as a continuum, variations in which Kouzes and Posner associate with important outcomes. For example, high LC may not necessarily induce greater intergroup cooperation, less conflict, more administrative reform, or higher performance. But high levels of LC can raise the probability that such good things may happen, because LC can serve as a catalyst that facilitates interpersonal and intergroup cooperation as well as commitment to organizational goals. Executives who possess high LC may rely less on positional power as the means for securing compliance to management objectives. With high LC, employees may perform their jobs better because high LC leaders make this easier for them to do--for example, by appropriately structuring work in a way that nurtures regenerative interaction (Golembiewski 1993).

But can LC be identified and measured--reliably, conveniently, and with validity--in the realms of practicing administrators and elected officials? Tests of several propositions will assess whether perceptions of CAO leadership credibility will associate in the expected direction with perceptions toward change, innovation, group relationships, and service performance.

Ratings of CAO leadership credibility among employees and board members are higher when:

Hypothesis 1: Employees and board members perceive that the city has undertaken successful strategic planning processes.

Hypothesis 2: Employees and board members perceive that the CAO is receptive to change.

Hypothesis 3: Employees and board members perceive that intergroup board-CAO relationships are cooperative.

Hypothesis 4: Employees and board members perceive that intraboard member interaction is cooperative.

Hypothesis 5: Employees and board members perceive that local government service performance is increasing.


During the summer of 1996, graduate students taking a class in local government administration distributed a ten page LC survey (Gabris and Mitchell 1991; Gabris and Ihrke 1996) within eleven local governments in the Chicago metro area. This sampling procedure was based mainly on convenience. A local government was chosen because one of the eleven students worked for it either as a full-time employee or as an intern. A total of 176 surveys were distributed to all persons in three subgroups in each government: the chief administrative officer (CAO) such as the mayor, city manager, or city administrator; elected policy board members; and department heads who report directly to the CAO. At the time the survey was administered, none of the students/researchers were involved with any of the change programs being implemented within the local governments under study. The same survey was sent to all targets; exhibit 2 reflects data about response rates.

Exhibit 2 Sample Characteristics

                        Sample     Number      Response
Variable                 Size    Responding      Rate

CAOs                      11         15          100(*)
Elected officials         88         48           55
Department head           77         43           56
Other                      0          2            0
Totals                   176        108           61

(*) In some cases, both mayors and managers checked this category.

Several features generate an initial appreciation of the research population. The response rate of 61 percent implies that our students had good access to these local officials. Moreover, different kinds of local officials may express different perceptions of a CAO's leadership credibility. For example, elected officials may be mostly familiar with the CAO's outward or external performance but have little knowledge of how credible the CAO is perceived to be inside the organization infrastructure. Comparatively, department heads may have established perceptions about a CAO's internal leadership effectiveness but remain relatively ignorant of this same official's external credibility perceptions. Thus department heads and elected officials experience CAO leadership from somewhat different vantage points (Svara 1990), both of which are essential to accurate description.

In sum, the present approach provides a multiofficial check of the CAO's perceived credibility. While credibility of administrators at all levels is important, other administrative officials will take their bearings from the CAO.


Our LC model derives from measures based on the work of Kouzes and Posner (1988 and 1993). In one study of a large federal agency, variables in the LC index consistently exhibited high reliability coefficients (Gabris and Ihrke 1996). The extension of the LC model to a population from Chicago metro governments involves fourteen variables. They are briefly described below under two headings: the LC index and dependent variables.

LC Index. Eight statements comprise the leadership credibility index. Prior research by Ihrke (1996) established these eight statements through data reduction techniques.

* The CAO clearly communicates the purpose and rationale behind new programs and reforms.

* The CAO actively works to communicate the organization's vision and mission to employees.

* The development of a shared vision and set of core values is a fundamental objective of the CAO.

* Employees believe they can trust the CAO and put their fate in his/her hands.

* The CAO makes sure employees have sufficient power and authority to accomplish assigned objectives.

* The CAO practices what he/she preaches in terms of values, work effort, and reform. CAO sets a good example.

* The CAO follows through on promises regarding changes others are expected to carry out.

* The CAO actively seeks to reward, praise, and recognize high performance.

Each of the eight items is estimated on a five-point scale ranging from (1) strongly agree to (5) strongly disagree. Thus, LC index scores range from a low of 8 to a high of 40. Exhibit 3 reports the mean LC scores for CAOs, elected officials, and department heads.

Exhibit 3 Descriptive Statistics for Leadership Credibility Index
                  Elected            Department               F
Category         Officials    CAO      Heads      Overall   Prob.

Mean               29.3      31.8       27.6       28.8      .20

Coefficient        .963      .892       .945       .952

Total N             40        13         40         93

Various researchers (Larson 1992; Fulks 1994; McNeese-Smith 1991 and 1993) have shown that leadership credibility is associated with central outcomes in organizations. Here we attempt to determine, through correlational analysis, if leadership credibility is associated in public agencies with several important outcome measures that serve effectively as the dependent variables of the study.

Dependent Variables. Six covariants will help assess the utility of the leadership credibility index in this public sector replication. In turn, attention will focus on:

* perceptions toward local strategic planning;

* perceptions toward the receptiveness to reform and innovation;

* perceptions of the status of relationships between policy board members and administrative officials;

* perceptions toward the character and degree of cooperation on the policy board;

* perceptions toward the character and degree of conflict on the policy board;

* perceptions toward local government service performance.

As exhibits 4-9 below show, twenty-four items tap these six possible covariants of LC, with each item being assessed on a 5-point response stem: (1) agree --> (5) disagree.

Exhibit 4 Product-Moment Correlations Between LC and Strategic Planning Variables, by Four Aggregates
                          Elected           Department
Category                 Officials   CAO      Heads     Overall

V7 City engages in and
sets regular
goal sessions
for policy board          .36(*)     .38      .60(*)    .49(*)

V9 City utilizes more
advanced strategic
planning techniques       .46(*)     .42      .69(*)    .56(*)

V10 City has a clear,
updated mission
statement                 .27(*)     .52(*)   .39(*)    .34(*)

V12 City has
conducted a
analysis and
environmental scan        .39(*)     .45       .15      .29(*)

N                          36         13        36       89

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

Exhibit 5 Product-Moment Correlations Between LC and Perceived Receptivity to Innovations, by Four Aggregates
                          Elected             Department
Category                 Officials   CAO        Heads      Overall

V27 This
organization adapts
well to its
environment               .60(*)     .71(*)     .57(*)     .59(*)

V28 On balance,
employees embrace
change and reform;
minimal resistance
to new
ideas                     .47(*)     .70(*)     .39(*)     .44(*)

V30 Strategic
change is
constantly a priority     .28        .85(*)     .74(*)     .56(*)

V35 On balance,
attempted reforms
can be described
as highly
successful. Few,
if any, have
been terminated           .41(*)     .93(*)     .63(*)     .55(*)
N                          36         13         37         87

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

Exhibit 6 Product-Moment Correlations Between LC and Perceptions toward Intergroup Board-CAO Cooperation, by Four Aggregates
                           Elected             Department
Category                  Officials    CAO       Heads      Overall

V56 CAO is willing to
challenge board when he
feels board is
operating on
wrong assumptions          .39(*)      .45       .54(*)      .47(*)

V57 CAO is
effective in his
with the board             .88(*)      .53(*)     .56(*)     .70(*)

V58 CAO is perceived as
effective in his
external interactions,
e.g., with citizens        .77(*)      .75(*)     .82(*)     .76(*)

V79 Communications
between the board
and staff are
frequent and effective     .49(*)      .49(*)     .54(*)     .54(*)

V83 On balance,
board views
its relationship
with staff as a
team rather than
as supervisory             .52(*)      .71(*)     .52(*)     .52(*)

V84 Staff can
own up and
tell board
what it really
thinks, even if
it is unpopular            .49(*)     .49(*)     .62(*)     .56(*)

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

Exhibit 7 Product-Moment Correlations Between LC and Intraboard Cooperative Behavior, by Four Aggregates
                             Elected           Department
Category                    Officials   CAO      Heads      Overall

V70 Cooperation among
board members is high        .34         .27      .50(*)     .41(*)

V72 Disagreements on
board resolved by
win-win solutions            .28         .15      .50(*)     .41(*)

V74 Conflict usually
results in a clear,
consensus-based decision     .46(*)      .22      .46(*)     .47(*)

V77 Board satisfied with
the way it
makes decisions              .39(*)     -.15      .10        .13

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

Exhibit 8 Product-Moment Correlations Between LC and Perceived Intraboard Conflict, by Four Aggregates
                           Elected             Department
Category                   Officials    CAO      Heads      Overall

V69 Conflict on
board is high                -.25        -.01     -.33      -.30(*)

V71 Disagreements
get in the way of
finding solutions            -.33        .18      -.27      -.27(*)

V73 Disagreements
by board members
become personalized          -.47(*)     -.43     -.51(*)   -.46(*)

V75 Some disagreements
seem to go on forever        -.46(*)     -.10     -.41(*)   -.39(*)

V85 Organization
experiences many crises      -.17        -.39     -.61(*)   -.39(*)

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

Exhibit 9 Product-Moment Correlation Between LC and Perceived Service Performance, by Four Aggregates
                           Elected             Department
Category                   Officials    CAO      Heads      Overall

Rate the overall
effectiveness of this
local government
organization as a
service and program
provider                    .26        .78(*)     .75(*)      .60(*)

(*) Indicates significance at the .01 level, one-tailed test.

For present purposes, note only two other points. First, the jurisdictions that provide subjects vary in their managerial technologies. In effect, we encompass these differences in seeking associations of LC with managerial details as well as with the character of relationships--both within the policy-making board and between the board and administrative staff. Second, all data come from individuals, and it will be aggregated at four levels for analysis: overall, elected officials, chief administrative officers (CAOs), and department heads. LC scores vis-a-vis item responses will then be run, and product-moment correlation coefficients will estimate the degree of association.


The results of the study are conveniently summarized under two headings. They relate to leadership credibility as a construct, as well as LC covariants. In turn, attention is directed at each cluster of findings.

LC Reliability. Our analysis suggests that LC seems to be a reliable measure, as is obvious from four levels of aggregating individual scores. Exhibit 3 provides details that can be summarized by two key points. First, Cronbach's alpha coefficients reach levels far beyond the minimum needed to justify research use. Those coefficients range from .89 to .96, with the highest coefficient found for the elected official subgroup. Hence, the only relevant question is whether we could have economized on items utilized in LC estimates. Second, the four levels of aggregation differ in their mean LC scores, but not significantly so (P = .20). The alpha coefficients in exhibit 3 suggest that the LC items are reliably measuring the same leadership attributes, not only across individuals but also across groups. This dovetails nicely with similar reliability checks on much larger samples of employees performing dissimilar tasks (Gabris and Ihrke 1996). So, LC appears to be a reliable measure of a facet of leadership.

Covariants of LC. Despite some variation, LC serves to isolate a substantial and stable set of covariants within each of the six clusters of items underlying this research. Each cluster is described, in turn and briefly.


Exhibit 4 establishes that simple product-moment correlations isolate a consistent set of covariants in this first cluster of variables. Specifically, all sixteen associations fall in the expected direction. Not surprisingly, respondents who perceive that their organizational CAOs have high LC are also more likely to perceive the use of increased levels of strategic planning, mission statements, and environmental scans. This pattern is reinforced by twelve additional associations that surpass a P value of .01 or less. If a correlational threshold of .30 is employed to indicate at least moderate statistical association, fourteen of the sixteen reported Pearson correlations meet this test.

Overall, then, LC seems to be reasonably associated with enhanced perceptions about the local government's strategic capacity, as expected. Consider Kouzes and Posner's notion that leaders must market their ideas by sharing them with their colleagues. For example, a vision means little if only the leader understands and believes in it. Correspondingly, the higher the LC, the more likely that persons in all categories of officials will perceive reforms as highly successful. Perceptions of effective innovation, change, and reform appear to be associated closely with perceptions of how credible local CAOs seem to be.


A noteworthy association also exists between LC and receptivity to change--as one might expect. High LC associates with more facile change, quite uniformly for all four levels of aggregating individual responses. Specifically, all sixteen associations fall in the expected direction, and fifteen exhibit a P value of .01 or less. Moreover, fifteen of the sixteen product-moment correlations exhibit an r term greater than or equal to .30.

Findings from exhibits 4 and 5 show, at two levels of abstraction, that LC covariants seem consistent in eleven Chicago metro governments. Those relationships hold both for specific technical innovations and for general receptivity to change.


Our attention now shifts to three sets of perceptions that involve interpersonal relations and conflict; exhibits 6-8 report our findings. The underlying questions have a direct form. Does high LC covary with cooperative behavior, and hence regenerative interaction? Put another way, is low LC associated with dysfunctional conflict and degenerative interaction perceptions (Golembiewski 1993, 41-72)? The focus falls first on the perceived relationships between the board and CAO, and then on intraboard activities.

The interface between the political and administrative sectors--between the board and the staff headed by a CAO--is often tense, and exhibit 6 provides support for the hypothesis that LC has attractive covariants in this often troublesome linkage. This coincides with expectations drawn from a straightforward rationale about LC. That is, all twenty-four correlations are positive, indicating that high LC associates with the relational variables in the expected direction; moreover, twenty-four of the twenty-four correlation coefficients surpass the .30 threshold and all have P values of less than .01.

Overall, then, exhibit 6 suggests that high LC is associated with cooperative staff-board interaction in a robust, highly active manner. For example, a CAO with high LC may be more willing to risk challenging a board, and this suggests robust leaders surviving in politically charged environments. In such risk taking, CAOs can extend beyond playing the role of administrative caretaker. Relatedly, when LC is high, communications and openness with the board is high, and staff seem more willing to own up to their ideas even though the board may find them unpopular. When LC is high, moreover, perceived trust (not reported in exhibit 6) is also very high between the CAO and the board (product-moment correlation = .93). This suggests that regenerating interaction--where high trust is the decisive component--associates with high LC at all three levels of analysis. Consistently, the inferential picture reflects a situation wherein the goals of the policy board and its administrative staff are more likely to be congruent and mutually supportive. As expected, the coefficients between LC and goal congruence for board members, department heads, and CAO's are .45, .70, and .82 respectively.


Relatedly, does LC vary with perceptions of intraboard behavior? The premise is that highly effective leaders will enhance cooperation and diminish dysfunctional conflict within groups. Consistently, Svara (1990) reports that intragroup cooperation between board members covaries directly with perceived levels of success.

In our study, when the focus shifts to intraboard interactions, the pattern of covariation is less robust than for some covariants, but the pattern found in exhibits 4-6 remains steady. Thus, fifteen of sixteen cases in exhibit 7 fall in the expected direction, and eight achieve statistical significance at the .01 level. The one case in the contrary direction could merely reflect random variation. Department heads are found to most closely approach the expected pattern.

The CAO category is the clear outlier, since all four of its coefficients fall far short of statistical significance. The small size of the subsample no doubt discourages aggressive interpretation of this pattern.

More tentatively than in the other data arrays, exhibit 7 suggests a mixed pattern. Importantly, policy board members generally report that they are more satisfied with their group decisions when the CAO is perceived as having high LC. However, our use of correlational analysis requires caution about interpretations. CAOs who are perceived as having high LC may simply function in positive organizational systems that are also conducive to positive interactions among board members.


A further question is: Do perceptions toward the leadership credibility of CAOs covary with perceptions of dysfunctional conflict among policy board members? The rationale seems quite direct. Dysfunctional conflict can be defined as that which occurs when policy board members personalize conflict, when they seek win-lose outcomes, and when they spin their wheels without arriving at decisions. Moreover, high conflict may increase crisis management, which department heads may reasonably expect to experience less of when LC levels are high in their CAOs. Thus, credible leaders may discourage policy makers from personalizing conflicts, while they emphasize a focus on the major issues. Moreover, credible leaders need not evoke a crisis mentality in order to get extraordinary cooperation, because a basis for strong commitment already exists.

Exhibit 8 presents the results that can be highlighted by three particulars. Consider, first, the overall column. All coefficients fall in the expected direction, and each achieves a P value of .01 or less. Second, patterns differ for the three categories of respondents, with CAOs again the odd category. Nonetheless, the pattern seems clear enough. In sum, fourteen of the fifteen coefficients are in the expected direction, although only five achieve significance at the .01 level. Both features imply that high LC covaries with perceptions by all observers of low board conflict, and vice versa, but the pattern is less marked than in exhibits 3-6.

Third, other reasons may exist, but the small CAO sub-N seems to be the primary suspect in explaining its outlier status.


A summary leads to the final issue. Does leadership credibility covary with perceptions about service performance and productivity? The results are reported in exhibit 9. For the overall column, the product-moment correlation is .60. This adds support to the view that credible leadership is associated with perceived organizational effectiveness.

When the overall category is broken out by the three categories of governmental positions, however, other possible patterns emerge. Consider only a few details. First, elected officials are clearly the outlier, for reasons that are not clear from the present data. The coefficient has the expected direction but does not achieve statistical significance at the .01 level.

For the other two aggregates--CAOs and department heads--the coefficients strongly associate high LC with higher levels of service performance. This pattern seems to conform with intuitive sense. For example, in those governments with high levels of perceived LC, there also seems to be the presence of better communication, goal congruence, and cooperation between staff and board members--which should lead to a better linkage between policy formulation and implementation and which should result in higher perceived performance.

One possible explanation for why elected officials do not associate high LC with high service performance may inhere in how we measure service performance. For instance, Lawler (1992) makes a convincing case that accurate measures of performance should include separate measures of cost effectiveness, quality, innovation, and speed. Simple measures like ours may not capture the more subtle, or even the indirect, factors that characterize high performance but are nonetheless important to elected officials.


In sum, LC may not be the definitive concept for measuring meaningful public-sector leadership attributes but, at a minimum, its association here with many positive, healthy organizational conditions warrants further research and analysis. Overall, the pattern of results is persuasive. That is, ninety-four of ninety-six associations in exhibits 4-9 fall in the expected direction, and seventy-two of these attain significance at the P value of .01 or lower.

With the only major caveats relating to the correlation method and to the small subsample size of the CAO category, four findings seem justified. First, LC can be measured consistently and reliably across several kinds of government officials. Second, higher LC appears to be associated closely with perceptions of successful government innovation, strategic planning, and change. For example, public organizations with credible leaders not only seem to do more planning, but LC varies directly with reports of more sophisticated strategic planning technologies.

Third, higher LC seems to be strongly associated with regenerative interaction between the staff and the elected board. Thus, higher LC seems to be connected with higher levels of intergroup trust, openness, risk taking, and owning. This implies that CAOs who possess high LC characteristics might be better at mitigating the degenerative tendencies of the traditional bureaucratic structures they typically administer. In any case, as cause or effect or moderating variables, this cluster of variables constitutes a reasonable target for additional research--and then possibly for application in connection with leadership research. The role of regenerative interaction in the change literature is substantial already (e.g., Golembiewski 1993).

Fourth, higher LC is associated with higher perceived service performance by the professional staff, but less so by elected officials. Perspective on this association, if replicated, seems valuable in both theoretical and applied senses.

Broadly, then, can LC be utilized more widely in public-sector research and later applications? Our response is a cautious, yet generally optimistic, yes. In fact, if the leadership capacity of public-sector executives does not improve, then the future takes on a grim character.

How would this relative optimism in LC be manifest? Our research suggests that not only can credible leaders exist in typical government organizations, but when they do exist these same organizations are perceived to possess healthy, positive system characteristics. These dual findings have clear implications for practice. Enhanced LC seems to require, or at least profit from, rising above the restraints of the traditional bureaucratic structure, for reasons that seem compelling (e.g., Golembiewski 1995).

Moreover, we are optimistic that leadership credibility can be taught and, through careful experiential training, at least partially learned. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how this can be done, yet the prospects are exciting to use leadership training rather than to deride or despise it. To illustrate briefly, regenerative interaction seems to be central to high LC, and such interaction is amenable to standard learning designs that have high success rates (e.g., Golembiewski 1993, 308-44). In addition, the conceptual framework of Kouzes and Posner contains numerous elements of attitude and technique that are easily amenable to instruction and follow-on. Thus the mission-driven leader presents a real challenge for public organizations, but that concept also may provide a convenient avenue for the public sector to regain the confidence it once enjoyed.


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Author:Gabris, Gerald T.; Golembiewski, Robert T.; Ihrke, Douglas M.
Publication:Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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