In the first article “Taking the Heat or Shifting the Blame? Ethical Leadership in Political- Administrative Relations After Policy Failures,” Minou de Ruiter investigates the tendency of ministers to shift the blame of policy failures to top administrators. De Ruiter focuses spe- cifically on the political-administrative interface within two parliamentary systems with min- isterial responsibility: the Netherlands and the Australian State of New South Wales contexts. Whereas the Dutch institutional system is characterized by a strong parliament, con- sensual politics and the principles of the Rechtsstaat (rule of law), the New South Wales con- text reflects a weak parliament, adversarial politics, and public managerialism. The author reviews both the formal rules guiding political-administrative relations and the informal norms regarding appropriate ministerial account-giving, and also experimented with vignettes. The findings of this fascinating study indicate that public management reform ini- tiatives implemented within Australia (e.g., where managers enjoy latitude in decision-mak- ing) is a key factor in whether a system of hierarchical or individual accountability is enforced. De Ruiter’s main conclusion is that formal accountability rules and informal rules- in-use make ministers take the heat instead of shifting the blame.
In Niels Karsten’s article “Not Biting the Hand That Feeds You: How Perverted Accountability Affects the Ethical Leadership of Dutch Mayors,” the author details a context of perverted accountability in the Dutch local government system. Following the Dutch Municipalities Act, mayors are formally responsible for safeguarding and advancing adminis- trative integrity. However, as Karsten points out, this responsibility implies that mayors must not only oversee the conduct of their peers, but also the conduct of the municipal council –and thus their de facto superiors. This unusual context may lead to what Karsten calls an illegitimate accountability. The result is that Dutch mayors display a sense of behavioral con- formity that serves policy responsiveness, but also inhibits them from truly taking on the role of ethical leader. Instead, the evidence suggests social and career risks are an impediment to mayors’ willingness and ability to act against wrongdoing, as the municipal council could dismiss mayors from office as a direct or indirect act of retaliation.
In the article “Secrecy and Leadership: The Case of Theresa May’s Brexit Negotiations” by Marlen Heide and Ben Worthy, the leadership of Theresa May—former prime minister of the United Kingdom—is evaluated within the context of the Brexit negotiations. While openness may be essential for democratic leadership and enhance trust in and legitimacy of
550 LASTHUIZEN ET AL.
the political system and institutions, secrecy can aid political leaders to protect their power and policies or preserve their reputation. May’s approach to use secrecy as a mechanism to create political space and inter alia protect her reputation and power appeared successful ini- tially, but over time, the counter-pressure for openness reversed its benefits. The sophisti- cated transparency ecosystem—as the authors call it—simply did not allow it. As a result, May lost control of the policy and the narrative around the Brexit-deal, and with it her own reputation, which ultimately led to her resignation as prime minister of the UK in July 2019.
Hendrik Marrten Koolma and Cataharina van Dreven examine in their article “The Change from the Creation to the Destruction of Public Value in Social and Institutional Contexts – A Case Study of CEO Peer and Policy Networks within the Dutch Social Housing Sector,” the risk of unethical behavior of organizations’ leaders for public value cre- ation. The authors show that a highly productive period in the nineteen nineties within in the Dutch Social Housing sector was followed by a period where destructive leadership mani- fested. In the period after 2000, various reform initiatives were implemented. One the one hand, a transfer of state control from the housing sector to the boards of housing corporations took place and thus a transition from public to private ownership. At the same time, however, new public management reforms occurred, which increased discretionary control by leaders, stimulated private sector management styles, and fostered greater competition among chief executive officers. Ultimately, these combined reforms enabled the emergence of an environ- ment in which destructive leadership could flourish. The authors conclude that instead of authorizing, the ‘new’ institutional environment has been conducive to value destructing courses of action by public leaders.
We conclude this symposium issue with a final article by Fahad Shakeel, Peter Kruyen and Sandra Van Thiel, “Ethical Leadership as Process: A Conceptual Proposition.” In this article, the authors provide a thought-provoking conceptual reflection on the notion of ethical leadership. Deviating from typical conceptualizations, Shakeel, Kruyen and Van Thiel pro- pose that ethical leadership is best conceived as a learning process that follows sequential phases in the leadership development path. They suggest that ethical leadership styles could be developed from being a virtuous leader at the one end of the continuum to professionally grounded leadership and socially responsible leadership styles in the center, with transform- ational leadership styles at the other end of the continuum. The position of each leadership style on the continuum is determined by the extent to which the leadership style is externally oriented. For example, whereas the virtuous leader focuses on the virtues of honesty, fairness, and accountability and is focused on the leader itself; the professionally grounded leader has an external orientation and focuses on legal and organizational principles. This conceptual study, based on an extensive literature review, results in three models for further research that provide a new perspective into the function and interdependency of the constituent parts to study ethical leadership as a process.
The contributions in this special issue show that the unique characteristics of the public- political context are important to understand both ethical and unethical leadership practices and outcomes. With it, we hope to provide public officials with insights that help them to better understand and deal with their extraordinary environment in which they operate and how that shapes, and perhaps deters, their efforts to foster ethics. At the same time, the spe- cial symposium issue is yet another call to the academic community to take deliberate