Co-Production of Leadership Activities: A Micro-Level Perspective on Human Interaction in Public Sector Organisations

Co-Production of Leadership Activities: A Micro-Level Perspective on Human Interaction in Public Sector Organisations

Tom Karp (Kristiania University College, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4975-9.ch005
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In many public sector organizations, leadership is co-produced by the leader and subordinates and other stakeholders involved in human interactions. Co-production happens on the micro-interaction level between organizational members in organizations. It is the interactions between people that over time generate patterns of leadership activities. Accordingly, we must distinguish leadership activities from the individual leader. Different stakeholders create framework conditions for leadership, influenced by the dynamics of power and contextual boundaries, and as such, they co-produce leadership. Co-production of leadership is an important perspective infrequently explored in the co-production literature. For researchers, this means shifting attention away from the individual leader towards processes of co-production. A co-production perspective provides leaders themselves with a deeper understanding of what it means to lead and also gives them an opportunity to reflect on what constitutes leadership activities.
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The principles of co-production have been around for some years in organisational theory but have in recent years experienced a revival (Verschuere et al., 2012). Research in a variety of disciplines has paid increasing attention to the role of citizens and the third sector in the provision and production of public services. More recently, exploration of co-production has become a topic for a broad range of academics with a focus on, and practitioners working with, public services, management and leadership (Brandsen & Pestoff, 2006, 2009). This renewed academic interest in the issue follows up and builds upon the work of early scholars like Parks and colleagues (1981) and Ostrom (1999). Existing research views co-production as leading to shifts in roles of the public sector institutions and their staffs with the aim of developing services and activities that are co-produced by means of active participation and distributed decision making. Co-production is therefore at the crossroads between several academic disciplines, which makes it an increasingly attractive object of study by scholars from different disciplines. It thus has the potential for developing in quite different directions and taking on different meanings in different public regimes (Pestoff, 2018). Commonly, co-production is understood as a practice in the delivery of public services in which citizens are involved in the creation of public policies and services. It is contrasted with a transaction-based service delivery, in which citizens consume public services that are conceived of and provided by governmental organisations (Bason, 2010). So far, most academic applications of co-production have been about the creation of public policies and services between organisations and citizens, but the co-production turn in organisational theory has also led to increasing interest in other types of co-production processes in public organisations. One such interesting turn is co-production of activities within organisations. Alford (2009) has examined how leadership activities and organisational processes can be-reoriented to make better use of co-production. But one may take perspectives of co-production one step further, to the micro-interaction level between organisational members, more specifically, to the co-production of leadership activities in organisations (Alvesson et al., 2017; Carsten et al., 2010; Carsten & Uhl-Bien, 2012; Shamir, 2007). This perspective on leadership is in line with new public management and new public government principles, which emphasise participation, outcomes and human interaction through processes and formal and informal networks (e.g. Osborne, 2010; Osborne et al., 2013; Pestoff, 2018). It is, however, a perspective less explored within the co-production literature.

Leadership is a much debated and controversial phenomenon, to put it mildly. The answer to the relatively simple question of why some people lead and others follow comes in many variations. The most common answer is that leaders lead because they possess certain personality traits, qualities and knowledge, as well as the appropriate type of behaviour that, in turn, creates the framework conditions for followership; this, in turn, results in people working towards common goals. Accordingly, leadership is commonly understood as a phenomenon associated with individuals, with some people leading by virtue of their position. The bulk of leadership research is thus leader-centric and describes one-way effects associated with leaders’ personal characteristics (Day & Antonakis, 2012). This is exemplified with statements such as “Leadership is the behaviour of an individual… directing the activities of a group toward a shared goal” (Hemphill & Coons, 1957, p. 7). But a causal explanation suggesting that individuals with specific qualities engage in specific behaviours causing a group of people to work toward common goals, is, at best, too simplistic. Such an explanation of leadership might just as well spring from firmly entrenched discourses of leadership as being premised on heroic individuals, or from the assumptions of academics and consultants trying to make sense of a multi-variable phenomenon by constructing publishable or marketable concepts, extracting a handful of variables from an equation with many unknowns.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interaction: An occasion where to or more people communicate, collaborate or somehow react to another.

Leadership: The process where individuals take responsibility for influencing and guiding others to work towards common organizational objectives.

Power: The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events.

Context: The condition in which something occurs.

Co-Production: Joint production of activities within organizations.

Autonomy: Self-directed freedom, independence and the capacity for self-governance.

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