Fostering change through effective leadership: a case study of the City of Cape Town
Despite the fact that local government is nothing like it was several decades ago in terms of the numerous reform changes it has undergone, within the South African context we find that many of the elements of bureaucracy still represent local government institutions. In this regard bureaucratic structures were designed to have compliant employees who make decisions according to specified behaviours and rules. This feature of bureaucracy ensures that its leaders are not encouraged to take risks. In a bureaucracy it is preferable to stick to the tried and tested habits and practices as it is against these metrics that performance is assessed and promotions awarded. Innovative, entrepreneurial leaders run the risk of losing their jobs if they endeavour to either think or step outside of the box. The notion of embedding an innovative culture therefore becomes a challenge within the constraints of the public sector. There is an uneasy tension between the need for a cultural revolution of outdated bureaucracies in order to enhance flexibility and innovation on the one hand, and the desire to maintain the standards and procedures that are necessary for quality, accountable services to a broad range of stakeholders on the other. In effect there is tension between the need to be innovative and compliant. In this regard the adaptive local government organisation might be one that is not too prominent in terms of innovative cultural characteristics. But it might be one that displays both innovative and bureaucratic organisational cultural characteristics as it strives to achieve this dual objective of innovation and compliance. The study aims to see if transformational leadership principles can be applied under the prevailing conditions of policy, laws and strict compliance within local government. This study is based on the belief that leadership can influence organisational culture as it tries to bring about change. Leaders have to be up for the challenge to create an open culture that encourages change. By developing cultures that foster innovation leaders can help their organisations become more responsive to the changes in the external environment and become more effective. In order for their organisations to become more innovative, leaders would have to change their leadership practices and approaches to shape the new culture of their organisations. In this regard the buzzword over the last few decades in public administration has been change. One of the essential elements of leadership is change. Leaders are agents of change, be it at organisational level or at societal level. They represent the catalysts of social movements. Such a context is suitable for a transformational type of leadership. They can fulfil this role by inspiring those around them, setting an example and creating a vision of the future that is both attractive and credible. The transformational leadership theory starts from these premises. The transformational leader asks followers to transcend their own self-interest for the good of the group, organisation, or society, to consider their long-term need for self-development rather than their need of the moment and to become more aware of what is really important (Bass, 2008: 50). Schein (1997:15) reminds us that leadership and organisational culture are two sides of the same coin. The one cannot be studied without consideration for the other. Organisational culture therefore plays an important role in the effectiveness of the reform process. It is within this context of reform and change that leadership and organisational culture become relevant topics of discussion. It is against this backdrop that the study takes a look at the City of Cape Town’s attempts to implement strategies that promotes the type of organisational culture that can advance transformation and change as it strives towards the objective of becoming a world-class city.