Contextual Conditions for New Public Leadership



Contextual Dynamics of Collective Leadership

The analysis of the literature and the research findings  which is described in the ‘Selfless Leader’ offered an insight in relation to potential dynamic interrelationships between the internal contexts of collective leadership. Each of these are illustrated in the figure above.

The word ‘context’ stems from the latin word ‘contextus’ which comprise the two words con (‘together’) and texere (‘to weave’).   It describes the circumstances that form the setting for an event (i.e. leadership), and helps understanding.  In this sense, context is not something that is directly controllable but one that does have a clear impact on intentions.  It is not simply good enough to identify the contexts.  What is also needed is the ability to identify the contextual conditions that either help or hinder the development of public leadership through collective endeavours.

The external (PESTLE) context coexists with, and influences, the six internal contexts.

The first internal ‘P’ is that of principles.  As a given, principles are non negotiable as is the end result of those principles, that of creating public value.  This is illustrated at the bottom-left of the internal context illustrated above. The importance of principles as a contextual given is highlighted alongside the physical (external) operating environment for public leaders, namely the political, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental contextual conditions and the paradigmatic (internal) environment that determines “how we do business here”. There is no direct influence over either of the external physical conditions or the internal paradigmatic conditions, certainly in the short to medium term.  Everything in between the principles and paradigm of the internal context and the physical conditions of the external context and the public value outcomes is not a given and is subject at all times to the creativity and interpretation of all of us.


[otw_shortcode_accordion number=”8″ item_1_title=”Purpose” item_1_content=”The role of the core purpose of the organisation, which interacts with the external context, is to take the ‘what questions’ further. The core purpose states the reason for which something is done and its intended effect and takes due account of the underpinning values and the overarching vision. It asks ‘why’ does the organisation exist and ‘who’ will carry it out? ” item_1_opened=”closed” item_2_title=”Processes” item_2_content=”If purpose represents the first internal contextual condition (and acting as the conduit for aligning the organisation to its external ‘givens’), then the second internal contextual condition is about processes. A process describes a ‘series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end’. This includes a series of changes, a systematic series of operations that are performed in order to produce something and a multitasking operating system. ” item_2_opened=”closed” item_3_title=”Problem Profile” item_3_content=”The two terms together, ‘problem profiles’ underpin and inform the purpose. An intelligent-led approach to leadership provides the context for understanding the problems, the on-going changes to the patterns and the range of solutions. If a solution is already known it is not necessarily a leadership problem.” item_3_opened=”closed” item_4_title=”People” item_4_content=”The term originates from Middle English through Anglo-Norman French from the original Latin term of ‘populace’, namely people in the plural and ‘considered collectively’. Within a democracy, ‘people’ are described as the primary principals and it is with people that agency exists. There is nothing that we do within our workplace that does not involve relationships.” item_4_opened=”closed” item_5_title=”Power” item_5_content=”Closely aligned to the context of people, and in particular, the meaning of agency is that of power, the eighth contextual ‘P’. Many will have agency, but not power. If a person has power, then the ability to reconstruct both agency and structure is present. The literal definition of ‘power’ is considered to represent ‘the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way; to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events and – in terms of governance – is closely related to the notion of legitimacy’. Power will always have a role in determining the success or otherwise of leadership.” item_5_opened=”closed” item_6_title=”Partnership” item_6_content=”The ninth ‘P’ within the context of leadership is one that interacts with the (external) social environment in the same way that purpose interacts with the (external) physical environment: partnership. This is a relatively recent term and describes an association between two or more people as ‘partners’ or the state of being a partner. The third sector and community groups are increasingly recognised as a key element of partnership working as public leaders, although strategic alliances are an increasingly important element of commercial enterprises. The development of partnerships is particularly important as it draws together both agency and structure and is where the ‘battle for power’ is often fought” item_6_opened=”closed” item_7_title=”Phronesis” item_7_content=”originates from Aristotle’s ancient Greek, ϕρόνησις, meaning thought, sense, judgment, practical wisdom and prudence and ϕρονεῖν; to think, to have understanding, to be wise. In modern language it is taken to represent practical understanding; wisdom, prudence; sound judgment. Aristotle has been quoted as saying that ‘all the virtues were forms of phronesis‘ (Ferguson, 1958: iii. 30). Interestingly, and in direct comparison, (Parel, 1992: 157) suggests that Machiavelli’s new political philosophy ‘rejects the relevance of the traditional notion of moral virtue and phronesis‘. Phronesis – as practical wisdom – thus represents a key element of the collective leadership framework through the development and application of intelligent leadership.” item_7_opened=”closed” item_8_title=”Place” item_8_content=”The term ‘place’ is generally taken to mean an open space or senses relating to a particular part or region of space or a physical locality. In terms of ‘place’ as a contextual condition for collective leadership, you can change your place (or space) but it is not necessary to change your purpose. As Shakespeare argued; ‘Though you change your place, you neede not change your Trade‘. Phronesis (practical wisdom) and Place can thus be viewed as mediating contextual conditions ” item_8_opened=”closed”][/otw_shortcode_accordion]


Dynamic interrelationships exist between the internal contexts of collective leadership which are helpful in identifying appropriate values and behaviours of leaders and leadership with seven possible combinations.  Each of the seven combinations is described in terms of the leadership behaviour that each contextual dimension seeks to influence and the wider leadership values that describe each such dimension in terms of its leadership outcome. This is illustrated to the right in which both the first and the third act as a link with respectively the preceding and the following domains.   Read More …

Relationship between Contexts