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Lessons from Leadership Theory and the Contemporary Challenges of Leaders


  • Montgomery Van Wart is professor at California State University, San Bernardino. He is also a senior research fellow at the University of Leuven and visiting professor at Rutgers University. His books include Leadership in Public Organizations (2nd ed., M. E. Sharpe, 2012), Dynamics of Leadership in Public Service (2nd ed., M. E. Sharpe, 2011), and Changing Public Sector Values (Garland, 1998). He has published numerous articles in Public Administration Review and elsewhere on administrative leadership. He is associate editor of Public Performance and Management Review. E-mail:


Leadership theories and the academic literature can sometimes seem difficult for practitioners to understand because of complex conceptualizations, obscure terms, and its enormousness. Yet taken as a whole, the literature makes a great deal of sense and has much to offer. Indeed, the truths are often quite simple, elegant, and straightforward. The purpose of this article is to review the major findings of the organizational leadership literature and to identify the important overarching insights, specifically those of particular importance to today's leaders in administrative positions in the public sector, where an evolving context constantly reconfigures age-old challenges.