Local Government Law Bulletin #143

Local Elected Officials' Leadership Derailment

Thursday, December 15, 2022

What Is This Study About, and Why Does It Matter?

Although many studies examine effective leadership in the public sector, including in local government, little is known about behaviors that derail public leaders. Yet understanding this topic is important. When local elected officials are derailed they are not the only ones who pay a price. Trust in government, the legitimacy of the democratic process, and the credibility of public actions may be undermined. Using data from focus groups conducted with local elected officials across North Carolina, this bulletin examines (1) how local elected officials describe leadership derailment and (2) the behaviors they believe contribute to it. We find leadership derailment has negative implications not just for individuals but also for governing bodies. This is particularly relevant in North Carolina local governments, where local elected boards, rather than an elected chief executive, are responsible for making policy and strategic decisions for local governments. Our results suggest that a range of problematic behaviors can derail elected leaders. Identifying these behaviors and tailoring training efforts to help elected officials avoid them may reduce the incidence of derailment and associated personal, institutional, and community costs.

 

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