Research Article - (2016) Volume 4, Issue 3

Leadership and Power in Public Organizations: Cross-Country Analysis from the Brazilian Perspective

Thiago Souza Araujo* and Silvio Dagoberto Orsatto
Federal University of Santa Catarina Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil
*Corresponding Author: Thiago Souza Araujo, Federal University of Santa Catarina Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil, Tel: +55 48 3721-90 Email:


The aim of this paper is to present the actual scenario of leadership and power in the public sector as well as the challenges in the further development of theory in this subject. This paper shows a cross country analysis conducted by analyzing the themes approached by recent literature in different countries related to this subject-leadership and power in public organizations. The documental analysis allows-besides the comparison-an integrative review about leadership and power in public organizations, what also presents the evolution of the theme in the last few years. The integrative review is conducted by summarizing available publications. It was identified authors, contexts, perspectives and focus, then synthesized main results, findings and conclusions. Then the cross-country analysis shows that different countries have different trending topics and some patterns were detected. As observed in the leadership literature values such as honesty and its impacts in leader behavior-and leadership process-are the most sensitive challenges in public service on lower adjusted GDP countries. The lack of ethics may result in significant misuse of power. There is an urgency in to design metrics about this kind of power misuse to avoid individuals to destroy organizations while achieving personal goals. It is presented a maturity gradient, from basic ethics to professionalization and competences on process-till efficacy. So this study presents trending topics embraced by leadership and power in public organizations’ nowadays, a debate and integrative review on these topics.

Keywords: Public administration; Leadership; Power; Governance; Ethics; Ethos


This works starts from the fact that the organizational context changes each time faster. Fast changes in technological background as well as new generations’ values are producing substantial impact in the leadership process in organizations. This process generates impacts over the leadership and power dynamics in organizations.

The aim of this paper is to present the actual scenario of leadership and power in the public sector and the challenges in the further development of theory in this subject. It is known that the theoretical foundations of studies vary, to perceive qualitatively these differences are also part of this study. What challenges richer countries are facing and what not so rich countries are dealing with on this subject? This is an example of difference this work will foster. So, this work approaches in a wide sense the question of leadership and power in contemporary public sector.

It will be evidenced the different approaches and focus to the theme leadership. Leadership as a process in organizations, group and individual viewpoint as well as organizational viewpoint; leadership new challenges will be presented.

At this way Section 2 presents the basic references about the general topic as well as some context. Section 3 describes the methodological design and procedures adopted in this work. Section 4 presents the integrative review and the discussion about how leadership and power have been approached in public organizations in the cross-country perspective.

The final remarks will present some challenges and highlight some factors that have leaded to misuse of leadership and power in organizations as some topics that deserves further investigation.

Theoretical References

In this section, some basic definitions about leadership, power and public organizations themes are presented with the objective to establish a common basis for upcoming literature integrative review development and discussion. Each concept is appointed with their theoretical references.

The concept of power in organizational context is generally recognized as the effective capability to influence: decisions, process, events and material things in the organization. Yukl [1] defines power as the agent's capacity to influence a target person. Power may have several foundations: control over information as in Pettigrew [2]; Yukl and Falbe [3]; also in "position power" and "personal power" like Bass [4]; Etzioni [5]. Power may mean “position”, with some variants, for example, a “legitimate power” perspective from French et al. [6], for those authors power comes from position in organization, a hierarchical approach is designed also by Mintzberg [7].

Some authors affirm that hierarchical position brings access to some sources of power, as says French and Raven [6], who structured taxonomy to classify types of power:

In short, to those authors, power in organizational context means “capability to” and its formal source in public organization is the position occupied, setting apart the political context. Political Power should be a support for to apply the right decisions, so it, theoretically should not be a capability to anything additional, although this question varies widely among different contexts (Table 1).

Power Definition
Reward power The target person complies in order to obtain rewards controlled by the agent
Coercive power The target person complies in order to avoid punishments controlled by the agent
Legitimate power The target person complies because he/she believes the agent has the right to make the request and the target person has the obligation to comply
Expert power The target person complies because he/she believes that the agent has special knowledge about the best way to do something
Referent power The target person complies because he/she admires or identifies with the agent and wants to gain the agent's approval

Table 1: Power taxonomy [6].

Anyway, in public organizations power (discretionary power) has a much narrower definition: for Uhr [8], Werbner [9], de Faveri, et al. [10] ethics and ethos must be above personal interest. In this sense, choices must be taken accordingly to organizational interest-never personal interest-what should be morally wrong, a practice called patrimonialism [11-13].

Public organizations may vary its characteristics accordingly to the nature of organization and country laws. However, when the public organization in analysis is a state it is imprudent to apply private standards to it. The mission and vision must not be focused on profit, but rather to serve citizens as described by Denhardt and Denhardt [14]. Rainey and Bozeman [15] analyses several papers about the distinction of public and private organizations and concluded:

Research on the public-private distinction is establishing this distinction as a well-founded concept in administrative research and theory, showing a rare combination of rigorous examination, convergent results, and both theoretical and practical significance [15].

In Latin American context, Motta [16] highlight the “personalism” as a factor of institutional impairment of public organizations. With those basic concepts in mind it is pointed some references in a historical perspective.

Leadership historical overview

Mintzberg [7] understands leadership as a role to be played by managers. It is understood as inherent to a supervisor, manager, director-and so on-positions. For Greenleaf [17] leadership is an empathy process: there is the necessity to understand the feelings of others. Similarly Burns [18] understands that leadership is based on mutual goals and visions, in a way to keep dialogue and respect with followers. This respectful relation leads to “Referent power” a concept tailored by Yukl [1], which is based on personal identification, loyalty, and admiration by followers. In this sense Hagberg [19] says that true leaders share power with others.

Leaders have ethical values [18], Hagberg [19] evidences one aspect of leadership in public sector: true leaders do and live what they believe; they respect their own values and so show the way by going ahead and doing what themselves say. Hagberg [19], Heider [20] and Block [21] says that leaders bring values into all their decisions. This means that true leaders never act against their own values, they will not agree with unethical decisions and will act ethically even when this position may critically impact themselves.

Bennis and Nanus [22] affirm that a good communication will conduce to a common perspective and the common vision brings commitment. Kotter [23] also highlights the importance of the relationship in managing people. Bennis [24] brings the characteristics of the leader in the 21st century as innovative, focused in people, inspirational and with the eyes in the horizon, thinking in the long run. Bass and Steidlmeier [25] puts ethics in first place in the leadership process: a leader should be a positive model that inspires motivation, and thus promote what they called a transformational leadership.

In the public sector one important foundation for the appropriate use of power was set by Weber [26]. He defined the theory of bureaucracy which made clear that the public servant must obey a standardized process respecting the aspects such as impersonality, morality, publicity and efficiency. In that way the public good would be assured.

King and Roberts [27] says that public entrepreneurs may improve the productivity and performance of public sector institutions as they generate creative solutions, redesign governmental programs and implement new management approaches to revitalize the public sector. This point of view is reinforced by many other authors like Merrit and Merrit, Doig and Hargrove, but it must move on when the public interest will be assured and quality of public service will be improved.

On the other hand, King and Roberts [27] warn that “public entrepreneurs can be expedient manipulators who play fast and loose with the public interest”, a critic that is also made by Reich among others. The leadership in public sector is more sensitive to ethical conduct since their indicators of success are much more complex than those from private sector. In most of cases it is hard to create indicators because there is a great space of subjectivity and interpretations of what is good and what is not good for public administration. For example: to spend less with police vehicles, is it good or bad? It depends if you think in cost or in service. Also, you may consider that if prevention is better, then police patrol should be considered as a preventive or corrective action once they may be engaged in a persecution at any moment? Probably both. Other example is in the process to decide whether the development strategy is better: to increase investment in an established industry field or to stimulate a potential new one? There are valid arguments for all answers. It is an endless debate. But, there are small aspects to be observed, based in available numbers in which contexts that will evidence the benefits for families, citizens, life quality and either indicators, kind of employment, net income, and many others [28].

So, there are arguments to justify decisions diametrically opposed. The question is: in the decision process, the community, specialized public servants, members of business companies in the region, other public departments for local, regional and federal levels are consulted? Is the process participative and transparent? Is the motivation clear and aligned with public interest? What are the oppositional arguments? Are they appointing to particular interest of the decision maker above the public interest? Are the processes being manipulated?

The motivation for decision must be clearly demonstrated and other motivations must be openly considered. The decision makers, must hear in open meetings all internal body of workers, respect and annotate opinions in the way to respect internal leaders in order to act with full support. In Brazilian context there is a plenty of obvious misuse of power from the smaller department to federal institutions. Despite the literature of leadership, the authoritarian misuse of power even if under legality is a form of corruption already forbidden by the law-Article 23 of the Brazilian federal constitution [29]-that bring the guidelines to public administration: legality, morality, impersonality, publicity and efficiency. The misuse of power generally crosses the limits of law in publicity (holding relevant information), impersonality (favoring some in detriment of others) and/or morality.

Furthermore, for some authors of leadership, like Heifetz [30], the leadership may not be coercive. So, this relation of power, that comes from the position occupied, and leadership is still not well solved. Probably the way to solve this issue is qualification: public service professionalization in Brazil and similar countries is essential to promote better rational, qualitative decisions, with a coherence in the leadership process. This specific topic of collective interest and ethics deserves a larger quote:

Denhardt and Campbell [14] argue that the four higher-order behaviors of transformational leadership as conceptualized by Bass and colleagues have intentionally left out moral subjective values such as liberty, democracy, and care, and they attribute this to the difficulty in operationalizing these values. They therefore argue that such a conceptualization portrays the leader as being self-centered (what House and Howell, 1992, call “personalized” charisma as opposed to “socialized” charisma). They use vision and their charisma to enable others to see only what they see. Such leaders can be manipulative and destructive of others' interests. For these reasons, they argue that such a conceptualization of transformational leadership is not suitable for public-sector organizations having a more community orientation [31,32].

As this is an underpinning issue for a good leadership in public sector it deserves attention in public organizations.

Less developed countries suffer with cases of low or not ethical standards. For example, although Brazilian laws starting from its federal constitution and complemented by decree N° 1.171/1994 (the civil public servant professional ethic code), ethical behavior in practice continuous to be a challenging topic, as well as in other countries:

The autocratic, bureaucratic and compulsive type of leadership that does not succeed in adopting and making the correct models of Webber’s rational-legal system more efficient characterizes public sector management in Romania (…) the rights of the employee are inadequately defended and in which decentralization, the transfer of power, and participative management are just a desiderate (…). The compulsive personality quickly reaches the height of their career. Although from a management point of view such people are considered masters, they have a toxic effect upon organizations [33].

So, for the individual if there is no punitive action, authoritarian leaders and their small groups may in the short run have good personal results with catastrophic results for the society, that individualism in a toxic leadership is a more intensive issue in low adjusted GDP countries as it will be seen afterwards in chapter 04. Hereafter it will be presented the research design and methodological structure.

Research Methodology

This work consists in qualitative and analytical research type. Its nature is theoretical since it is not intended to solve an immediate market like problem, but first explore the research field to identify patterns in the researches on the subject; as well to indicate some today and future challenges regarding the “leadership and power” topic. Although this work has some elements of conceptual it is predominantly empirical. It is a theoretical-empirical study, with explicit procedures.

About the pattern classification procedure in this paper it was adopted an analytical view on papers according to their research approach, focus, perspective understandings and findings. In what is concerned to the research approach this paper consists in a qualitative work constructed in a descriptive-analytical-synthetic. Research nature is theoretical while research strategy is conceptual. Research technique applied is the integrative review which summarizes past empirical or theoretical literature [34,35]. It is also used a cross-cultural analysis to approach trending topics among different contexts.

About the knowledge field area, leadership and power are a wide range multidisciplinary area since they are studied in psychology, sociology, philosophy, economy, business management and law and is topic of interest in a wide range.

In what regards procedures the follow steps were conducted to select papers:


Firstly, only peer reviewed scientific works were considered, what may have discarded some relevant “work in progress”. The search process was conducted in scientific bases with tradition in the areas of the leadership knowledge. Were they: Web of science; Science Direct; Periodicos Capes, a gateway to several other Journals.

So, it was established an appropriated delimitation for the integrative literature review that was conducted to reveal trending topics, or challenge questions, in different groups of countries.

Further criteria

Search syntax: Leadership AND Power AND "public organizations" returned a reduced number of Papers.

On Science Direct additional filters were applied: search in (title, abstracts and key words), and journals related to management, public administration, public policy and similar.

The search presented a few papers. Only results from year 2005 on were considered. The number of returns will be presented next.

Sample description

About the sample description, using this search terms and syntax resulted in 18 papers. So, the literature was filtered based on theme, which is the question of “power and leadership in public organizations”. Based in the above-mentioned criteria these selected papers were chosen for the integrative literature review.

Integrative review

Papers are studied to identify the main topics approached. This is done hereafter in chapter four by resuming them and identifying at Table 2.

Authors Context /Country/ Perspective Paper Title, Perspective and focus Paper Focus (Analysis) Synthesis, Main Results, Findings and Main Conclusions
Gordon, et al. [35] Australia Power, rationality and legitimacy in public organizations Focused on corrupt and unethical behaviour within the Service The concern of power to dominance. versions of rationality need to struggle for legitimacy
Al-Yahya [36]   United States of America and Saudi Arabia Power-Influence in Decision Making, Competence Utilization, and Organizational Culture in Public Organizations: The Arab World in Comparative Perspective Decision making Participative practices are significant predicators of effective utilization of competence (knowledge, skill, and ability)
Jurkiewicz [31]   United States of America. Soul Food: Morrison and the Transformative Power of Ethical Leadership in the Public Sector Ethical leadership Ethical leadership as a fundamental aspect for public service development. Ethical code is essential, but must not be repressive. Leader values like integrity and moral conscience conduce to common good.
Carassus, et al. [37] France, local government Factors that Determine or Influence Managerial Innovation in Public Contexts: The Case of Local Performance Management Performance-based management for innovation. Leadership as a Triggering factor for innovation in public sector.
Bezes et al. [38]   France. New public management and professionals in the public sector. What new patterns beyond opposition? New management patterns for public sector Collegial authority and organizational professionalization.
Minamoto [39]   Sri Lanka and Japan Social capital and livelihood recovery: post-tsunami Sri Lanka as a case Social Capital, community mobilization and State interaction. Even in catastrophic scenarios there is a formal network, the leadership factor was clearly present in a participatory decision-making process in the presented study case.
Leslie and Canwell [40] United Kingdom Leadership at all levels: Leading public sector organisations in an age of austerity Motivation of the civil servants Leadership challenge: Motivation of the civil servants; Leader's cognitive skills; Leader's emotional intelligence
Yozgat and Şahin [41] Turkey Perceived Managerial and Leadership Effectiveness within Turkish Public Sector Hospitals leadership effectiveness Leader Behavior: set of 41 behavioral indicators of managerial and leadership effectiveness was designed after the research.
Van Der Voet [42]   Spain The effectiveness and specificity of change management in a public organization: Transformational leadership and a bureaucratic organizational structure Leadership in Organizational change in highly planned processes of change, a low and high degree of transformational leadership results in an equal level of employee support. The transformational leadership behavior of direct supervisors contributes little to planned processes of change. However, transformational leadership is crucial in emergent processes of change, but only in a non-bureaucratic context.
Silvia and McGuire [43] United States of America Leading public sector networks: An empirical examination of integrative leadership behaviors network leadership Findings depict a leader of networks who is integrative. What integrative leadership is in behavioral terms. Behaviors exhibited by leaders depend upon the situational requirements arising from the circumstances in which the leader is leading
Authors Context /country/ Perspective Paper Title, Perspective and focus Paper Focus (Analysis) Synthesis, Main Results, Findings and Main Conclusions
Sun and Anderson [44] New Zealand and United States of America Civic capacity: Building on transformational leadership to explain successful integrative public leadership integrative public leadership, public multi-sector collaborations integrative public leaders can catalyze multi-sector collaboration through the use of structures, processes, and their character and behavior, public leaders; civic capacity as one of most relevant.
Morse [45]   United States of America Integrative public leadership: Catalyzing collaboration to create public value Integrative public leadership Collaboration, integration is enacted by leaders that act as catalysts. Challenge: Leaders to create collaboration.
Hur, et al. [46] The Netherlands and South Korea Transformational leadership as a mediator between emotional intelligence and team outcomes Leader effectiveness; Conclusion: emotional intelligence is inherently associated with transformational leadership
Mina, et al. [32] Romania Human Resources Approach Regarding Combating compulsive Bureaucracy in Governmental Institutions Bad Leadership toxic effect upon public organizations Leaders must be clear in their beliefs and values, responsive to the expectations of the staff and consumers they serve, enable the staff.
Birasnav et al. [47] Kingdom of Bahrain and India Transformational leadership, interim leadership, and employee human capital benefits: an empirical study Leadership and organizational performance; employees’ perceptions on leaders’ Transformational leaders instill trust among employees by empowering and supporting them to get involved in decision making
Huque   South Asia Area: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal Explaining the Myth of Public Sector Reform in South Asia: De-Linking Cause and Effect Public Reform, historical perspective, The overdependence of political leadership on a competent and permanent civil service; policies were based on unrealistic assumptions. Challenge: vague definition of concepts, piecemeal solutions to problems instead of innovation.

Table 2: Summarized literature integrative review by author.

Literature analysis

A deeper analysis of integrative review. Information gathered in Table 3 is analyzed in a simple cross-country approach comparing different trending topics and their perspectives among different gross domestic product (GDP). It is a deeper process than previous step, since the objective in this step is to understand motivation and country perspective. These aspects reveal the challenges of leadership and power in the public sector in those different countries. In these steps, some general patterns may be observed. These two last steps are presented in the follow chapter “results and discussion-integrative review”.

Theme Debate stage (Integrative review) Suggestions and Guidelines for future research
Organizational change/ Transformational Leadership/ Innovation Van Der Voet [42] argues that transformational leadership behaviour of direct supervisors contribute little to planned process of change, it is only effective in emergent process of change and in non-bureaucratic contexts. That approach is effective to show that public organizations needs a collective sense and process of decision. It means that leaders must hear people, citizens and public servants. In this sense Jurkiewicz [31] really has a point: the clear relation of transformative power by ethical leadership in the public sector. Ethics and collective sense is the first step to a transformational leadership and a good integrative leadership. Other authors added aspects of the transformational leadership like: emotional intelligence, Interim leadership and its impacts on transformational leadership by new approaches to organizational questions. All these abilities are welcome to a better management in the public sector To transform aspects of the group is a challenge everywhere. Organizational change needs transformational leadership to be well succeeded in the long term. In public organizations, the first thing to be considered is where to go, what change to better. This objective in a public organization must be mission and vision-based. The leaders must have a very high sense of collective interest and be clear in the public benefits, or it may lead to a not sustainable organization. Then, leaders need ethics to keep public interest above anything, really care, listen and understand public servants and the necessary structure above themselves. With society in first place the strategy has a good chance. Then comes the other aspects mentioned by literature: motivation, competence and other aspects mentioned. Transformational leadership in public organizations as Van Der Voet [42] argues do not makes sense for itself. It makes sense when thought in terms of small and continuous innovation, therefore it might be better called organizational improvements, and it may be-implicitly-part of the leadership role. Analyzed papers shows that changes are expected in public organization. The way to do that is certainly not by one big boss, but probably by a wider strategy, with the other components presented by other authors and somehow summarized in this paper
Ethics Ethics is the base of any public-sector organization that really wants to be effective. Several issues presented in the searched papers. There are some complaints, some moral risks are presented. Mina, et al. [32] affirms that bad Leadership has a toxic effect upon public organizations. Gordon, et al. [35] brings the concern of power to dominance, in an unethical way, what empirically is observed in public sector not so rarely. Huque (2005) reports the overdependence of political leadership on a competent and permanent civil service; also that policies are used to be based on unrealistic assumptions and also that there is vague definition of concepts, piecemeal solutions to problems instead of innovation. These factors bring a lot of ethic questions to be analyzed. Mina, et al. [32] present some risks of “toxicity” of a bad leadership and claims that leaders in public organizations must be clear in their beliefs and values, responsive to the expectations of the staff and consumers they serve, enable the staff. Some actions may be legal, but immoral, or simply do not accomplish the collective interest nor the public good. Jurkiewicz [31] says that ethical code is essential, but must not be repressive. Leader values like integrity and moral conscience conduce to common good The challenges are in the misuse of power mainly in less developed countries; the lack of mobilization to prevent or punish wrong actions in public sector, what relies in the social and institutional countries structures. Cross control institutional arrangements should be improved. Diffuse control by society through Information technology reinforced, like transparence Internet portals with citizen interaction. Long term consequences of today management (intertemporal effects) must be accountable, transparently demonstrated and controlled by mechanisms that are still to be created
Integrative Leadership Morse [45] affirms that collaboration and integration is enacted by leaders that act as catalysts. Silvia and McGuire [43] says that that integrative leadership is bound to leader behavior, and this is related to situational terms, then leader networks maters Integrative leadership is a leadership skill or strategy. A good one. One of most studied nowadays, and may be part of the transformation that most of transformational researchers want to see in public organizations
Professionalization/Competence Bezes et al. [38] brings the collegial authority and organizational professionalization, collective planning in qualified elected groups representatives. Al-Yahya [36] tells about participative practices as significant predicators of effective utilization of competence. Sun and Anderson [44] says about multi-sector collaboration. First the competences in the public sector, how to select public servants, what competences, know how, personal inter-relation skills and so on. The counter-part of the public sector is the necessity to the public sector to use this competence by professionalization. This means to use the competence of the public servants, empowering and give conditions for improvements This is another really relevant theme. Competence and professionalization are part of the solutions. They are part of the changes expected by authors that presented the transformational approach to the public sector. Like ethics, it is not an option, it is more like a requisite that in some countries, as seen in the literature review is less observed or almost ignored at all. Competence and professionalization in the public sector is surely a theme to the community to go further in the researches
Effectiveness/ Performance Effectiveness as direct focus was observed in several papers. Going deeper in the debate makes it clear that effectiveness is a result of good integrative leadership, ethics, values, competence and professionalization, as well as other subjects pointed by the authors This theme is considered as results, the cases pointed contribute to point some weaknesses of public organization. These weak points are mostly the same that are directly approached by the other authors in the literature. This approach even when rigorously quantitative is highly subjected to externalities and correlations issues, so a good delimitation for those studies is a critical factor
Motivation Minamoto [39] presents the social capital in the community mobilization process in an applied case Social capital, motivation and mobilization are strongly complementary. Motivation as internal process, mobilization as intra and inter-organizational process as well as social capital-citizenship participation-when talking about power and leadership in public organizations
Values Mentioned associated generally with ethics and moral in the searched papers Higher standards, like excellence, assertiveness, to provide solutions in electronic government
Technology usage, electronic government Barely mentioned, it is a way to solve some of the presented challenges Effectiveness is to be ready to provide web and mobile solutions, help citizens to collaborate among them and with the public sector

Table 3: Integrative review by themes.

Results and Discussion: The Integrative Review

After the process of search, the works developed in the area of leadership and power in the public sector was summarized identifying: the authors, the country or region context, the perspective and focus, the paper analysis and a synthesis of the main conclusions.

By reading the papers pointed in Table 2, it was found that the authors nowadays are focusing in public organizations with questions of organizational change, transformation, ethics and values, holistic vision-integrative leadership, competence and professionalization, decision making process, motivation and mobilization. The number of occurrence of these themes on analyzed papers is underscored in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Themes approached.

Those identified sub themes inside “leadership and power in public organizations”, were organized by country per capita gross domestic product (GDP) adjusted by parity purchase power. This allows to analyze what are common universal questions and what are more context dependent.

The most common topic nowadays is transformational leadership and organizational change. This theme is approached along all the range of countries in the per capita GDP analysis.

Still considering cross-country analysis based in GDP, the question of correctness as well as the importance of moral values and ethical behavior in public organizations also appears all along the range. At both extremes, there is a high attention to ethics.

For countries, such as Finland and Sweden ethics appears to be an assumption to keep things running smooth. In these countries indicators of wealth and its distribution are pretty fair, also education and culture contribute to good public services and high standards of ethics in public organizations. Certainly, high moral and education standards have bidirectional correlation.

It also was identified that higher absolute gross domestic product countries, with big wealth concentration, are also discussing ethics, not to sustain its standards rather to argue the necessity to increase it.

Effectiveness and performance are focus on lower per capita GDP countries. Competence and professionalization are questions in mind from middle to top Per capita GDP countries. Motivation or mobilization questions appeared in the middle of the per capita GDP scale.

It seems like more structured countries understands effectiveness and performance as a result of other questions like ethical use of power and leadership, integrative leadership, innovation and transformational leadership. Motivation also tends to be consequence of organizational excellence context.

From what had been searched it was found that there is no silver bullet to kill all the complex problems that public organizations may face. In the Table 3 the main themes approached by the searched literature is shown, with an integrative review and some suggestions and guidelines for future researches.

Some of the main questions are context dependent: lack of ethics may vary widely from country to country. Anyway, as observed on chapter 2, ethics is a requisite for benefic organizational leadership anywhere; it must be reinforced or introduced in an accountable way, what makes Governance a relevant correlated topic.

In what regards the leadership from position, et al. [38] says about new public management, and Denhardt and Denhardt [14] have already said, that public sector should be “serving not steering”. Public sector is not a business, it is not a company, it is part of a State. Weber [26] solved it a long ago. Weber's bureaucracy is relevant in its concept. However nowadays models are in practice corrupted. Position brings responsibilities, that’s it. Power is something due to State as institution, not that some individual owns.

A question that arises then is about “discretionary power”: in what extent a ruler, or any public agent, has discretionary power due to its position? In a democracy, all power came from the people (citizens, collectively), in its democratic sense [29].

Let’s explain discretionary power: the state has as priority to meet the needs and interests of the population, this is the foundation of the public administration for the exercise of their state functions. To achieve this purpose, a framework of legal rules confers powers to provide the Public Administration capacity to act [48], (not a person, an institution) and through an institutional context to exercise acts of authority.

Consequently, the law does not always leave gaps to be addressed by the choice of the ruler/administrator, justifying the need for discretionary power. On the contrary, if law itself does not give specific criteria, there are a number of organizational/institutional guidelines, technical criteria to be followed. So discretionarity is a very restricted concept and must always take place in institutional terms. Another key aspect is that the discretionarity is institutional, in deliberative councils, never a personalist process. Borges [49], has already alerted to the administrative deviations such as corruption, disorientation, confusing plans, lack of credibility of public authorities.

At the current stage of civilization, especially in contemporary society, the rule of law affects the discretion to its legal and constitutional grounds [50], in order to prevent the diversion of purpose.

It is needed new mechanisms to avoid unethical actions. New governance mechanisms may be a path to an effective answer, since old tools such as controllers (Audit) have their efficacy compromised by hierarchy [51,52]. An external controller may be deceived in what regards discretionary decisions, or may suffer political pressure. In what regards internal controller there is no independence when you may have your vocation delayed or may be transferred to a remote location, or be promoted (cooptation) by those who you are responsible to "control".

That is why the leadership process must be diffused controlled to keep organizational interest in mind. Some of new mechanisms of governance are the disclosure [53], transparency [54], civil society control, like observatories [55]. For example, as stated in public administration law in Brazil the principles of legality, impersonality, morality, publicity, economy and efficiency must be followed. However, while legality is easy to observe, aspects of serving not steering of new public service by Denhardt and Denhardt [14] in small departments are still a challenge in less mature public sectors.

Also, empirically it is known that in contexts like Latin American it is urgent a true professionalization. Governments should only admit administrators, engineers, lawyers, accountants and so on, qualified personal accordingly to the position to be occupied, this is not a reality yet all long Brazil, Argentina and other Latin America countries due to cultural/political inertia. Ethics in organizational professionalization seems to fallow that logic. The question is qualification, social conscience, ethics. It is needed accountability programs with new ethical metrics.

While motivation-Leslie and Canwell [40]-and collaborative governance-Morse [45]; Silvia and McGuire [43]-are, topics approached by countries with higher standards in economic and social development.

In other countries, the question of power and leadership is focused in more fundamental questions: ethical and moral topics that lead to different kinds and levels of corruption and misuse of power and leadership as may be observed.

It appears that due to context differences some solutions for problems already solved elsewhere may not apply for those countries.

It is typical when a study from the Netherlands and South Korea [46]-concludes that emotional intelligence is critical for leadership. In Latin America this is absolutely obvious, although the need for technical skills is absurdly forgotten most of the time.

Based on observed literature integrative review, a maturity model of leadership in public organizations emerges. It may be observed in Figure 1.

This figure summarizes the main resulted topics at searched literature on discussion about power and leadership in the public sector. From left to right as GDP rises trending topics evolves.

While in less mature countries (left side) some questions are related to the lack of ethics and moral values. Center figure region focus on process improvements. On the right higher GDP countries are discussing effectiveness, since they usually already solved most of previous questions.

Ethic is a requisite to leadership, especially at public sector, as already mentioned. After, there are some leader skills and strategies: like decision making as skill, or innovation capacity; integrative and transformative leadership as strategies; leader characteristics. Then come aspects related to public organization member’s skills: competences of the public servants and the proper use of these competences by the public organization, what is professionalization.

A step ahead there is the citizen involvement, changes are society driven and must be so in public organizations. Citizen interest in to participate (and their skills) then plays a significant role. In this sense governments, will deliver e-Gov for e-citizens. So, technology is a tool to be used by the leader and members of the public organization and citizens [56,57].

Papers about performance and effectiveness sometimes seems to be like reverse engineering: what leaded to success or performance? This approach may be relevant in some cases, but are due to a lot of correlation and bidirectional correlation issues, as well as highly subjected to externalities. Performance will appear when the right things are done right. Improvements are needed as an innovation process. However as shown by Van Der Voet [42] transformational leadership in a business company fashion is not appropriated to the public sector in the practice as wells as by definition.

Final Remarks

Yozgat and Şahin [41] also concludes that listens to the staff and behaves sensitively are key factors for effective leadership and management in public organizations. According to Toulouse (2007), good governance requires actors who are accountable.

The first step to improvement is to be aware of problems. In this sense these observed trending topics in each context as observed on Table 3, and also on the analysis on Figure 1 may be a guide to handle power and leadership in public sector.

As a theoretical and practical challenge, it may be underscored the study of how to assure that formal and informal leadership will put in the foreground the organizational mission and objectives-instead of personal interests.

As observed in the leadership literature in Table 2, values such as honesty and its impacts in leader behavior-and leadership process-are the most sensitive challenges in public service on lower adjusted GDP countries. Even though this topic keeps being a basis for a long term good public leadership process [58].

The way to avoid manipulative leadership, and to assure the public interest, is, in this sense, a challenge that seems to pervade a wide range of countries in the spectrum we raised in this paper (Figure 2). It seems that controllers and accountability tools are not enough yet since indicators cannot capture internal process of decision-making process. There is also the temporal unbalance question, decisions in the short term that may compromise organizational future or society’s future. Besides, different arguments may be used to reinforce bad decisions [59].


Figure 2: Per cita GDP adjusted by PPP.


Figure 3: Public organization leadership process.

The lack of ethics may result in significant misuse of power. There is an urgency in to design metrics about these kinds of power misuse to avoid individuals to destroy organizations to achieve personal goals. The public organization must be designed to serve the community rather than personal purposes.

One of the challenges in this field of public sector power and leadership barely mentioned on analyzed papers is the temporal unbalance that power in the public sector generates: the short term returns versus long term impacts. This is an urgent question that has not been appropriately approached in most part of available scientific literature.

In this integrative review, it may be concluded that ethics, values, culture (social morality) are fundamental to the question of power and leadership in public organizations anywhere. Afterwards it seems that organizational change and innovation is on the spotlight to public organizations nowadays.

Based on the integrative review, we suggest that future researches should focus on leadership and power misuse, ethics in public sector, reinforcing ethical leadership, intertemporal consequences of public leadership decision-making and intertemporal accountability mechanisms.


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Citation: Araujo TS, Orsatto SD (2016) Leadership and Power in Public Organizations: Cross-Country Analysis from the Brazilian Perspective. Review Pub Administration Manag 4:194.

Copyright: © 2016 Araujo TS, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the creative commons attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.