Many commentators view the political management reforms of English local government with some scepticism, raising concerns about the desirability of stronger leadership and the efficacy of institutional reform in encouraging stronger leadership. Using data from a five-year evaluation of the impact of the Local Government Act 2000, this paper reports evidence suggesting that institutional variation does influence the way that organisations operate and can have a positive impact on their performance, though the results are mixed with the internal decision-making elements showing most difference, whilst there is less evidence of effects in relation to partnership working and engagement with the public. In hung and balanced authorities an internal focus on managing coalitions and party competitors is judged to impede the role of leaders in partnership working. In the concluding section, the paper develops the concept of facilitative leadership, which will continue to influence reform of local government and the practice of political leadership in local government. Policy-makers, by giving leaders the right mix of resources and incentives, can improve the effectiveness of urban political leadership and encourage the trend towards facilitative leadership.