Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Jay Brand

Second Advisor

Shirley Freed

Third Advisor

Erich Baumgartner



The problem this study investigated is the phenomenon of a small but growing group of activist political leaders who are redefining public sector governance by reshaping the organizations they lead, thereby improving the institutional environments of hitherto moribund public agencies. The study explored the unique dispositions, skills, values, and/or behaviors of this class of leaders in order to provide an understanding of their emergence in terms of their development, decision-making and other personal leadership characteristics that evolved into their 'activist' nature. The purpose of this research was to develop a grounded theory regarding how the leadership competencies/qualities exhibited by this new breed of public sector leaders support the achievement of ‘above-the-norm’ organizational performance in the public sector, despite the constraints of weak governance institutions within their specified contexts. The study has its conceptual framework drawn from the notions of effective leadership from a personal leadership perspective, as described in the works of Greenstein (1979) and, Mumford (2006).


The method of investigation adopted for this study was a ‘grounded theory’ approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1994, p. 273), a general methodology of qualitative research designed to build substantive theory based on the systematic collection and analysis of data. Data collection was primarily by open ended narrative interviews with a purposive sample of seven public sector leaders who had been (a) identified by perceived improvement in organizational performance during their tenure in public office (b) their leadership activism as demonstrated in their use of public office to effect social change within their leadership context (c) held public sector leadership role for a minimum of three years (d) in leadership at national and/or sub-national levels and (e) validated by a subject matter expert. In addition, four (4) key informants were interviewed – who is either a past/present associate/subordinate of five (5) of the leader(s) interviewed in the study.


Three major themes emerged from my interviews with the leaders: (a) their managerial and personal approach; (b.) their cognitive disposition to achieving good governance outcomes; and (c.) their pragmatic leadership approach to resolving leadership challenges of weak institutional contexts. These leaders are able to deliver effective leadership despite weak institutional/governance frameworks, not by using a specific leadership technique; but rather by manifesting their own personal convictions for achieving results —convictions that emerges from a matured conceptualization of their self-integration process.


The study concludes that leaders’ personal characteristics, understanding of self-concepts, and a pragmatic approach empower them to successfully create a compelling personal vision that has a clear ethical framework. They combine these with the capacity to use their social and emotional competencies to achieve results. The study further claims that producing leaders who successfully lead public organizations effectively is the responsibility of many parts of the “ecosystem” of public leadership.

Subject Area

Leadership; Political activists