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An introduction to public leadership
An introduction to public leadership

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1.2.3 Leadership in Practice

Early research on leadership focused particularly on individuals – what made them stand out as leaders in terms of their personalities, or how they were able to be charismatic and influential through particular styles or types of behaviours. It has been called the ‘heroic’ approach to leadership.

There is a place for heroic leadership. A prime minister or president can often make a difference. A ‘gold commander’ may be essential in trying to restore public order in a riot. But if we only think of leadership as heroic, we may miss the important everyday leadership that goes on at all levels both inside and outside organisations. This calls for the three forms of leadership, based on personal qualities, organisational position and social process – to be developed across public service organisations and utilised by practitioners according to the demands of the situation.

In this video, Chief Constable (CC) Francis Habgood of Thames Valley Police discusses the role and the personal qualities of a leader within policing, the nature of leadership in a hierarchical organisation such as the police, and leaders working through fostering relationships.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_police_vid_1037.mp4
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Activity 3

Is there anything that still puzzles you about the personal qualities needed for leadership, the relationship between leadership and formal positions of authority, or the process by which people exercise leadership through interaction with others? What more do you want to find out about these aspects of leadership?

And what are your own aspirations in these three aspects of leadership? What kind of personal qualities do you want to be known for? What kind of position do you want to be in? And how do you want to work with others to provide leadership?

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In the following short quiz, you can test your understanding of what you have studied so far about leadership and its practice in the public sphere.

Activity 4

A distinctive feature of public leadership is for leaders always to...?

a. 

act in the public interest


b. 

manage their public image


c. 

practise public speaking


The correct answer is a.

a. 

While many commentators on leadership may recommend the development of public-speaking skills and the cultivation of a positive public image for themselves and their organisation, the expectation of always acting in the public interest distinguishes public leaders from those in other economic and social spheres.


Which of the following is not considered a perspective on leadership amongst researchers?

a. 

social services


b. 

organisational position


c. 

personal qualities


The correct answer is a.

a. 

Researchers recognise the importance of organisational position within a hierarchy of management roles, and of personal qualities such as the ability to communicate and empathise with others, as valid perspectives on understanding leadership. The third perspective identified is social process, which relates to the ways in which leaders lead – for example, through coaching, facilitating or commending. ‘Social services’ is simply a common name for a branch of public service responsible for delivering aspects of social care and welfare provision.