Exploring Collective Leadership

Collective Leaders working Collaboratively

Introducing Collective Leadership?

The impact of YouYour TeamYour OrganisationYour Partnership affects how the public interest is served.

Selfless Leadership in the same direction

“Collective leadership is a “form of leadership based on shared values for achieving impact in the public interest, , rather than individual leadership based on self-interest”

After many years of practising and studying leadership, Stephen Brookes had been musing over the problem of individual versus collective leadership approaches. He eventually coined the phrase public leadership – as a form of collective leadership. The term was based on his research over some ten years, culminating with his practical PhD, which studied community leadership within multi-agency partnership working.

With thirty years of experience as a senior leadership practitioner, Stephen joined the University of Manchester Business School in February 2006, intending to make a difference to reverse the detrimental effect of thirty years of New Public Management (NPM). NPM – driven by the notion of individualism and economic freedom, the achievement of targets was the sole arbiter of organisational strategies. Achievement or non-achievement of the targets led to either promotion or sacking, respectively. This single-mindedness on economic targets was not the exclusive preserve of either the not-for-profit (public/voluntary) sector or the for-profit (commercial) sector. It traversed all sectors. As a result, management behaviours focused on ‘counting what can be counted’ rather than counting what counts’.

Against this background of the need for public leadership reform, Brookes applied for funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) within his first three months at the University. He successfully secured funding to lead a series of seminars to bring together senior leaders, senior policymakers and academics to consider how a model of new public leadership (NPL) could replace the outdated NPM. The main argument in the funding proposal was that there had been too much public management and not enough public leadership.

The New Public Leadership ChallengeFive high-level seminars were held during the next two years. A New Public Leadership model emerged, published as research findings in 2008. The results were followed by publishing an edited volume entitled The New Public Leadership Challenge in 2010 (co-edited with Keith Grint, an accomplished international leadership academic expert. Keith Grint agreed to support Stephen in transitioning from senior practitioner to fellow leadership academic through the series and the book. Authors (contributors to the seminar series) looked at four policy areas of public sector reform, considered public leaders’ essential features, and provided examples of public leadership in action. The volume concluded with an outline of a public leadership approach for the future. It sought to give public leadership a firm foothold within the study of leadership in general.

This aim to secure the foothold was successful. In 2006, the term ‘public leadership’ was not prominent and was entirely overshadowed by ‘public management’. This position is now reversed overwhelmingly. In the most recent google search (April 2022) on ‘public management’ versus ‘public leadership’, google hits for public leadership are now a third higher than ‘public management’ with 6.8 billion google hits versus just over 4 billion, respectively. Brookes’s influence in promoting this shift of emphasis is evident in that the top hit remains his original webpage (introduced in 2009) on ‘what is public leadership’. The initial web pages have been incorporated from our sister site to this web portal and are continuously updated. He was also the founding editor of the International Journal of Public Leadership (IJPL) which is now a highly respected journal..

In the introduction to the book “The New Public Leadership Challenge”, Brookes and Grint define public leadership as a much more inclusive and meaningful way than the previous focus on new public management:

A form of collective leadership in which public bodies and agencies collaborate in achieving a shared vision based on shared aims and values and distribute this through each organisation in a collegiate way that seeks to promote, influence and deliver improved public value as evidenced through sustained social, environmental and economic well-being within a complex and changing context. (Brookes and Grint, 2010: 1)

The definition also tells us that the overall outcome of effective public leadership is the creation and demonstration of public value. The NPL model and the focus on public value and public interest form a continuous element throughout this web portal.

More recently, Brookes continued his research on public leadership. In his more recent publication, the Selfless Leader (which this web portal supports), he defined collective leadership as a “form of leadership based on shared values, rather than individual leadership based on self-interest” (Brookes 2016). He further tells us that a “collective leadership framework places (leadership) behaviours as a high-level outcome of shared values”.

This web portal continues to build on this solid foundation for public leadership generally and selfless leadership specifically. Several frameworks are nested within the overall framework of collective leadership, although the overall outcome of collective leadership is creating and demonstrating public value. Brookes thus suggests that collective leadership can be assessed to identify the achievement of overall public value. The CLI is the means by which this can be achieved.

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Your Team
Your Organisation
Business meeting The Partnership
Collective Leadership

Explore Collective Leadership further


This section provides more information about the meaning of collective leadership.  To be successful, we suggest that you need to know yourself before you can know others.Reflection is critical.

An Anatomy of a Collective Leader is then presented, followed by an outline of how collective leadership is practised through our Leadership Quomodo, described above, supported by six Intelligent Leadership Questions. The section concludes by emphasising the importance of legitimacy and accountability for collective leadership.

The Selfless Leader