Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

City Managers' Leadership Credibility: Explaining the Variations of Self-Other Assessments

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

City Managers' Leadership Credibility: Explaining the Variations of Self-Other Assessments

Article excerpt


The concept of "leadership" is arguably one of the most studied topics in organizational behavior (Fernandez, 2005; Kaiser, Hogan, & Craig, 2008; Van Wart, 2003). For decades, scholars have attempted to understand effective leadership at the individual level and the relationship between quality leadership and success at the organizational level (for some classic examples, see Boyatzis, 1982; Burns, 1978; Kouzes & Posner, 1987; Stogdill, 1948, 1974; Terry, 2003). Even though the public administration literature has generated a substantial volume of leadership scholarship, our understanding of leadership both conceptually and as it relates to organizational outputs remains elusive (Van Wart, 2003). As James MacGregor Burns states, "leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth" (1978, p. 3). Therefore, our efforts to understand leadership must continue (Van Wart, 2003).

The public-sector literature has notably failed to create one unifying or dominant theory of leadership (Terry, 2003; Van Wart, 2003). However, it has produced a vast literature on a variety of different aspects of leadership (Van Wart, 2013). One particular path of scholarship examines the role of the transformational leader in organizations (Bass, 1985, 1990, 1996; Burns 1978). We build on this research by examining one of the defining traits of transformational leaders: leadership credibility. Namely, we argue leadership credibility exists when leaders are highly self-aware (Sosik & Megerian, 1999).

In this article, we develop a measure of a leader's selfawareness by asking them to rate their own performance and comparing these ratings to evaluations by their subordinates. We then attempt to identify characteristics that influence the accuracy of manager's self-evaluations in order to improve our understanding of leadership credibility. Our findings are important, as research from the field of organizational psychology has shown individuals who are aware of their performance behave quite differently than those who are not self-aware (Atwater, Ostroff, Yammarino, & Fleenor, 1998; Atwater & Yammarino, 1992; Sosik & Megerian, 1999; Tekleab, Sims, Yun, Tesluk, & Cox, 2008). Before turning to our model, it is important to review the relevant literature on organizational leadership.


The topic of "leadership" has been an interest to public administration scholars for decades, yet there are still many gaps in our understanding of what makes a leader great and the impact that leadership has on organizations (Van Wart, 2003). The gap in our knowledge may be related to the fact that as a concept "leadership" can be quite amorphous. As Stodgill (1974, p. 259) concludes, "there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept." This definitional problem has yet to be resolved in any coherent fashion, but there are reasons to be encouraged.

Scholars have long noted the general distrust toward government and hostility toward bureaucratic growth (Meier & Bohte, 2006; Terry, 2003; West, 1995). However, the fact remains that over time we have come to expect more and more from our government, making the behavior of individuals within the bureaucracy at all levels critical to the daily lives of so many (Terry, 2003). This has led some scholars to question the role that leaders play in organizational success (Bass, 1985, 1990, 1996; Burns, 1978; Fernandez, 2004; Hennessey, 1998). While many scholars (Fernandez, 2005; Terry, 2003) assert the importance of leaders in the public-sector, others question whether leadership truly matters (Boyne, 2002). Wright and Pandey (2010, p. 75-76) argue that "transformational leaders are expected to be both less common and less effective in public sector organizations than private sector organizations because the former rely more on bureaucratic control mechanisms. …

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