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Identifying the existence and impact of transformational leadership in the Australian public sector
DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW
  • Derek John Ambrose, Southern Cross University
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This study was undertaken to investigate the existence and impact of transformational leadership in the Australian Public Service (APS) noting that existing research into transformational leadership is largely based on observations and experiences from the private sector, and that little research has been undertaken in the APS context. The research commences with an examination of the classical, transactional and visionary leadership paradigms, the APS environment, and identifies the research problem to be investigated in conjunction with an outline of the research design, structure and possible limitations.

This research established social psychology as the parent discipline and its direct relationship to the immediate discipline of transformational leadership. The transformational leadership construct is extensively researched in the literature review and provides a supportive platform that endorses transformational leadership as being an ideal leadership style, for transforming organisations. The literature review conducted in this research demonstrated the gap between the current APS leadership, and the transformational leadership style, describing the problems that the APS leadership has, whilst articulating the benefits of the transformational leadership style for followers, leaders and organisations.

This research used the quantitative methodological approach through a known survey instrument originally designed by Alimo-Metcalfe & Alban-Metcalfe, titled the Transformational Leadership Questionnaire Public Sector Research Version. The survey is designed to investigate whether public sector leaders display transformational leadership behaviours and what impact the behaviour, if any, had on the workplace through the following research questions:

1. do APS leaders display any transformational leadership behaviours; and

2. what leadership behaviours do APS leaders display?

The next stage of this research established the positivist approach, through deductive reasoning supportive of the quantitative methodology and provided the platform for a range of statistical tests to be conducted. This direction enabled the testing of the hypotheses, the measuring of the associations, the differences between categories within the data and the reporting of the results. The measurement of the reliability, validity, correlations and variations of the data were conducted through means, standard deviations, Principal Component Analysis, Pearson Product moment, Cronbach alpha, Analysis of Variance and Post-hoc tests to provide the results for analysis and reporting.

The key findings from this study demonstrated that transformational leadership does exist in the APS, but is not dominant, and that the leadership rhetoric espoused by the APS has not produced improvement in either leadership or the workplace outcomes. Other key findings were that there was no difference in gender experience of transformational leadership in the APS, however, there was a difference experienced in the three APS segments studied. There were differences in transformational leadership behaviour between different locations and also between the executive and the non-executive officers of the APS. This research also discovered that transformational leadership behaviour by APS leaders is related to outcomes in the workplace, and that when APS leaders exhibit increased transformational leadership behaviour, there is an increase in the outcomes in the workplace, therefore, providing new knowledge for transformational leadership in the APS context.

This research found that the APS leadership behaviour as measured by the outcomes of achievement, motivation, satisfaction with leadership, stress and commitment was very low and that this caused significant implications, in that APS followers were disenfranchised, demotivated, dissatisfied with leadership and had low levels of commitment. The APS leaders were inaccessible, unapproachable and not understanding what motivates followers, in addition to appearing to be unaware that their behaviour and demands may lead to significant physiological and psychological problems, which in turn is enacted in the workplace. Therefore, the behaviour of the APS leaders is considered to be ineffective, particularly in adapting to change, lacking behavioural integrity, credibility, and basic leadership competencies such as values, trust, emotional intelligence and effective relationship building skills.

This research also found that for APS leaders to be effective leaders they will need to demonstrate an increased awareness of the sociological and psychological dimensions of their followers, and environmental factors. In addition, APS leaders will require a better understanding of the effect that their own leadership behaviour has in the workplace. The final implication of this research is that leadership in the APS has not improved or changed in the past 12 years, despite the rhetoric. Therefore, the APS now needs to change and address the leadership problems and engage a more enlightening leadership paradigm or style such as transformational leadership, if it is to meet future challenges.

Citation Information

Ambrose, DJ 2009, 'Identifying the existence and impact of transformational leadership in the Australian public sector', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright DJ Ambrose 2009