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Iwona Sobis, Frits van den Berg and Michiel S. de Vries

Abstract

In Public Administration, it is taken for granted that reforms are initiated and conducted by leaders. However, one can wonder whether change is indeed always coming from leadership and whether the concept thereof as the driving force behind change and the panacea for all the problems encountered during reforms is not a bit overrated in recent literature. This paper presents the argument that it is not the leaders but the employees in the teams and working groups and the experienced organizational members in particular who are the real carriers of reforms. It goes through the recent and older theoretical literature as well as through known empirical research regarding the matter and suggests that mainly co-workers are able to provide reform in terms of content, direction and practical solutions. The conclusion is that leadership is indeed an overrated factor in explaining reforms. The emphasis on leadership disregards an old-fashioned but perhaps still relevant concept, namely that working groups / project teams are oft en self-regulating, despite what leaders believe. Although empirical research taking organizational tenure into account is scarce and scattered, there is some evidence that the communities of practice are important for conserving, changing and developing organizational values and norms.

In consequence, theorizing about reforms and especially the implementation thereof needs to pay more attention to horizontal relations in the organization - the role of colleagues and especially the role of experienced organizational members.