Publication Date



This chapter explores how Selznick’s approach to leadership can inform contemporary organizational theory and research. Drawing on Selznick’s writing in Leadership in Administration and related works, we characterize organizations as simultaneously technical entities pursuing economic goals and value-laden entities pursuing non-economic goals arising from their members and their role in society. These two aspects of organizations are deeply intertwined and in continual tension with one another, and the essential task of leadership is to uphold both – protecting and promoting values while also meeting technical imperatives. To do so, leaders establish a common purpose that includes values and ideals not just technical imperatives, they create structures and practices that embody this purpose, and they make organizational decisions and personal behavioral choices that are consistent with this purpose. We consider each task of leadership in turn, showing how Selznick’s ideas enrich and extend contemporary research on competing institutional logics, organizational design, culture, and identity, leadership, and meaningful work.


Suggested Citation
Besharov, M. L., & Khurana, R. (2012). Leading amidst competing technical and institutional demands: Revisiting Selznick’s conception of leadership [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date] from Cornell University, ILR school site:

Required Publisher Statement
© Emerald. Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Organizations. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.