Transformational Leadership behaviours, Public Policy and Policy Actors: A Theoretical Perspective


Public policies are a medium through which governments solve problems of the people, society and nation.

Public policies are universally used to promote the objectives of the state. They essentially originate from the political executive but can also be promoted by bureaucracy, judiciary and various interest groups. The process of how policies are made includes: issue identification, policy making, policy implementation and evaluation, and monitoring. Public policies, through their inception and evaluation, face a very complex environment and various forces that influence how policies are shaped. Policy actors are the prime movers of policies and carry them to their conclusion. This paper envisages a significant role of transformational leadership behaviours in managing the convoluted policy process.

Transformational leadership (TL) has acquired a preeminent position in leadership studies. Transformational leaders portray a clear vision, build consensus among participants, promote innovation and are effective in managing change. This study asserts that attributes of transformational leadership would be effective in tackling policy challenges, and policy actors – political executive and bureaucracy – should adopt these attributes. It calls for harmonization of policy studies, transformational leadership studies and state action.




Public policies are most fundamental in nation building. “Public policies in a modern, complex society are indeed ubiquitous” (Anderson, 2003). Public policies solve problems that societies face in the present, future and very distant future. They are an instrument of state intervention to solve public problems. As Torjman (2005) asserted that policy is formulated in relation to perceived problems or needs in society, and hence, may be precautionary/proactive or reactive. Policies pursue objectives that are considered suitable to the society. They operate in the public realm and as Anderson (2000:5) pointed out, public policies “are those developed by governmental bodies and officials”. The significance of public policy can be cited from the observation that the major acclaim for post-World War-II Japanese economic marvel is attributed to systematic and well- implemented policies [Economic & Social Commission for Asia & the Pacific, 1995].

The process of policy formulation is both complex and integrates various organs of the state, the influence of interest groups, civil society and media, which also plays a critical role in shaping policies. Over the years, policy implementation has acquired centre stage with the process of “translating policy into action” (Barrett 2004) which gained criticality as policies failed to deliver on expectations.

Peters & Pierre (2006) advocate that complexity in public policy necessitates bringing together a wide array of academic and analytical aspects to advance better understanding of the nuances in the policy arena. They also assert that the ‘process’ of policy making has attracted most attention, being one of the most important aspects of policy. Policy design, instruments, implementation, monitoring and evaluation have also been studied.

Peters & Pierre (2006) observe that the new policy style is a change from ‘government to governance’, often called ‘new governance’. They claim that this “new governance” is more circumstantial and disordered than most past models of governance. This presents a cogent challenge to policy making and public policy.

Chief Executive, Professor Martin of Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), a leading public policy think tank, asserted the importance of effective leadership style for making and executing policy. Martin & Taylor (2013) praise the leadership of Hawke and Howard (both ex-PM of Australia) in foreseeing problems and having the ability to “engage and persuade people to adopt reforms”.

Successful public leaders devote great time and energy in managing the political environment (Denhardt 1993; Bryson and Crosby, 1992). They focus on their ability to communicate the values of the goals being pursued (inspirational motivation) to the stakeholders, but their personal charisma also plays an important role in shaping the political environment (as with former Indian PM Mr Vajpayee’s ability in creating consensus across party lines).

Vandenabeele et al. (2013) have called for public management research to integrate leadership theories critical in the public sector context. This study attempts to add an important but hitherto ignored aspect of effectiveness of transformational leadership behaviours in adequately managing the complex public policy ecosystem. This study does not see transformational leadership in its restrictive aspect of influencing subordinates alone, but in its wider behavioural aspect in interacting and influencing people, systems, situations and environment. It locates transformational leadership behaviours in terms of nature and characteristics of public policy, and role of policy actors. This study proposes that transformational leadership behaviours like (not restricted to these) setting clear goals, influencing people to look beyond their own self-interests and reaching for higher goals (Warrick, 2011), emphasizing on collective purpose (Simola et al. 2012), projecting self-assurance, assuring followers of their competency (Behling and McFillen, 1996), inspirational communication (Rafferty and Griffin, 2004), raising greater awareness about the issues of consequence (Bass, 1985: 17), enunciating clearly a vision of the future, understanding differences among people (Yammarino & Bass, 1990a), taking a stand on difficult issues (Bass, 1995), “question assumptions, traditions, and beliefs”, have a multi-dimensional perspective (Bass, 1997) etc. are very critical and effective in the complex and uncertain policy environment that the policy actors face.

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