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Leadership Theory and Practice in the MPA Curriculum: Reasons and Methods

Matthew R. Fairholm
Journal of Public Affairs Education
Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 2006), pp. 335-346
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40215745
Page Count: 12
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Leadership Theory and Practice in the MPA Curriculum: Reasons and Methods
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Abstract

As leadership evolves from a topic of management interest into its own unique topic of study and practice, it has a natural place in MPA curricula. Professionals with MPAs usually enter public service as technical experts, but are then often called upon to fill management--or "leadership"--vacancies in organizations. They are looked to as people who can get things done and serve the people inside and outside the organization. Technical experts are often called upon to be organizational generalists. Such a career path highlights the natural emergence in many MPA curricula to include explicitly some education about and training in leadership theory and practice. This article examines this natural trend generally and traces one program s attempt to incorporate leadership into its curriculum specifically. Management has been a consistent theme in public administration. It should be. Public administrators manage projects, they manage the efficiency of service delivery, they manage budgets and inventories and resources of all types. If we are to believe a growing literature and body of research on leadership theory and practice, we must believe that public administrators manage things, but they do not manage people: the cliche, of course, is that one manages things, but one leads people. Though a cliche, it has become so because there is, as within all cliches, a kernel--if not more--of truth in the statement. That we should readily admit that public administrators, in the course of their work, will need to lead people should not worry the profession. It does not diminish the idea that public administrators are creatures of a progressive era that hoped for a more efficient, effective, neutral, and scientific approach to running government. It rather enhances the idea that, as major players in the world of collective activity (in the nonprofit and government sectors, at least), public administrators have to combine those technical skills with the legitimate technologies of leadership. In fact, doing leadership enhances the efficient and effective running of government, because it makes public organizations perform better. This leadership takes place on a grand scale as the work of leadership is understood in such broad strokes as service delivery, policy implementation, and the use or nonuse of discretion in their decision-making roles. This leadership also takes place for public administrators as they understand their work as interacting every day with public servants who themselves have values, commitments to the public sector, and ideas about implementation, service delivery, and what ought to be. Public administrators must have facility with the values- laden, relational demands of their everyday work in organizations filled with people, not just organizations filled with things. Graduates of master of public administration programs, because of the nexus their profession represents between citizens, elected officials, and the mechanisms of government, are very well situated to engage in public leadership roles and, therefore, they should be prepared to do so. To fully prepare students and to assist mid- career professionals, public administration programs must include an explicit focus on leadership theory and practice. This paper explores how one MPA program is beginning to make changes to highlight leadership and generalists skills at least as much as it focuses on the technical skills that are traditionally and rightfully a part of the field.

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