Pearl Richardson Smith
This study examines the manner in which Charles O. Rossotti, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (1997-2002), practiced the servant leadership characteristics (listening, empathy, healing, persuasion, awareness, foresight, conceptualization, commitment to the growth of people, stewardship, and building community) to effect one of this nation's most massive business modernization initiatives. Greenleaf, who popularized servant leadership theory, promulgated the idea that government leaders favor coercive rather than collaborative leadership practices. Although servant leadership is growing in popularity among corporate executives, public management scholars argue that organizational constraints unique to the public sector limit the viability of this leadership approach for government leaders. Further, literature has produced mixed findings regarding the extent to which federal government senior executives believe their peers practice servant leadership. This study entailed interviews with Rossotti and 21 IRS executives who worked most closely with him. The findings indicate that Rossotti's leadership reflected the motives and characteristics of a servant leader and directly influenced his ability to transform the agency from a compliance-focused to a service-oriented organization, despite cultural constraints. Recommendations for future research are provided.
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