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How to be a great public service leader?


John Antony Xavier

National University of Malaysia, MY
About John
Professor of management, Graduate School of Business
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This paper highlights the various skills that are needed to be a great public service leader. Although the public service and the private sector are different in terms of work environment and objectives, the principles of leadership are the same. This is because leadership is about influencing employees to work towards achieving organisational goals.

This paper distinguishes three types of skills that a public service leader should have to bring out the best in his people to achieve organisational goals. The first are the high-concept skills of visioning and the requisite courage and determination to achieve the strategic direction of the organisation. The second are the high-touch or soft skills. These include the components of emotional intelligence and influence. The third are the analytical and technical skills.

Of the three types, soft skills are the most important of these skills. 75% of effective leadership rests on soft skills. This is because leadership today is increasingly a collaborative and participatory process to motivate employees to produce higher levels of performance. Notwithstanding, the judicious blend of these three skills will greatly enhance a public service leader’s impact on his organisation.

To be a great leader in the public service, one would also need to invest in developing people, to become leaders. While formal training is one way of developing leadership, 90% of leadership training is through informal on the-job training. Coaching and mentoring play an important role in growing leaders. The sacrifice of time and effort at mentoring and coaching future leaders will enable a public service leader to leave behind a lasting legacy.


Sri Lanka Journal of Development Administration, Vol. 4, pp. 15-38, 2014

How to Cite: Xavier, J.A., 2014. How to be a great public service leader?. Sri Lanka Journal of Development Administration, 4, pp.15–38. DOI:
Published on 30 Jun 2014.
Peer Reviewed


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