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International Journal of Public Administration
ISSN: 0190-0692 (Print) 1532-4265 (Online) Journal homepage:
The Relationship between the Leadership
Effectiveness and Emotional Competence of
Managers in the Public Sector
Tshepo Matjie
To cite this article: Tshepo Matjie (2017): The Relationship between the Leadership Effectiveness
and Emotional Competence of Managers in the Public Sector, International Journal of Public
Administration, DOI: 10.1080/01900692.2017.1387140
To link to this article:
Published online: 26 Oct 2017.
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Date: 27 October 2017, At: 06:27
The Relationship between the Leadership Effectiveness and Emotional
Competence of Managers in the Public Sector
Tshepo Matjie
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 06:27 27 October 2017
Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
This article reports on the perceived relationship between leadership effectiveness and the
emotional competencies of managers in the public sector, and the impact of this relationship on
service delivery. In the light of continual protests over government’s poor service delivery to the
public, doubts are raised about the leadership effectiveness of public officials. Research has
identified the leadership effectiveness of managers in the public service as crucial for quality
service delivery. Industrial psychologists have also identified leadership effectiveness and emotional competencies as important ingredients for success in organizations. This is due to the
facts that effectiveness and efficiency can be attained only if an appropriate leadership style and
manager’s emotional competencies or abilities are in place. Findings from the research indicate
that currently managers in the public sector possess insufficient emotional competencies to
subdue emotional outbursts and achieve effective leadership. Based on the findings and the
literature, the conclusion is that it is imperative for managers of public entities to acquire
effective leadership skills and become emotionally competent. Relevant training and interventions, and a comprehensive management recruitment process, should be put in place.
Leadership effectiveness;
public service; service
delivery; emotional
expression; emotional
regulation; emotional
Since 2004, South Africa has experienced a movement of
local protests amounting to a rebellion of the poor. The
protests have been about service delivery (Alexander,
2010). According to the Institute for Security Studies
(2009), South Africa experienced a wave of protest
action across most provinces during August 2009.
Protests actions were rife in provinces such as
Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, and North-West.
Such magnitudes of protests raise high concern over
the quality of leaders in the public sector. As a young
democracy, South Africa faces enormous challenges,
more especially its public service departments. The
post-1994 Public Service faces enormous challenges, in
terms of both its own transformation, and the transformation of the services that it provides to the people of
South Africa. In 1994 the country was accepted into the
international community, which led to International
Labour Organization (ILO) conventions coming into
effect in South Africa (DFA 2010). These conventions
led to the redrafting of labor legislation and the introduction of the Employment Equity Act, Act No. 55 of
1998 (EEA) and Affirmative Action (AA) principles. In
South Africa, AA has been legislated in an attempt to
correct the imbalances of the past. According to
Motileng, Wagner, and Cassimjee (2006) and Tinarelli
(2000), the EEA views AA as a transitory intervention
strategy designed to achieve equal employment opportunities without unduly restraining the career aspirations
or expectations of current employees managers in the
public sector who are experienced in their jobs (RSA
1998). As a result, people from previously disadvantaged
groups (blacks, women, and the disabled) are now hired
in managerial positions. AA principles have a direct
effect on service delivery by the public sector because
they warrant hiring only qualified, competent managers.
However, this does not happen in practice because most
public-sector managers are incompetent and lack the
necessary skills to be in management positions.
A growing body of research (George, 2000;
Goleman, 1995; Miller, 1999) shows that, apart from
experience and qualifications, a managerial position
requires certain types of behavior and certain skills;
that is, being emotionally competent and possessing
effective leadership qualities. However, research studies
have shown that many public-sector managers are
appointed without these skills and behaviors (Luthuli,
2009; Sangweni, 2003). According to Naidoo (2009),
CONTACT Tshepo Matjie
Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, UNISA, AJH Building, 3-78, 11 Preller Street,
Muckleneuk Ridge, UNISA 0003, Pretoria, South Africa.
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at
© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
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the challenge for the South African public service is to
develop appropriate profiles of management competencies and design the necessary interventions to ensure
appropriate leadership development. The interventions
include making psychological assessments (emotional,
personality, verbal, communication, and interpersonal
skills) during recruitment to assess the leadership qualities of candidates.
The term emotional competence is derived from
the term emotional intelligence (EI) coined by
Salovey and Mayer (1990). These two clusters were
chosen for the present research as they relate mostly
to conflict and leadership. Emotion expression is the
ability to express one’s own emotions to others,
meticulously and at the appropriate time (Mayer &
Salovey, 1997), whereas emotion regulation means
controlling one’s own emotions, thus eliminating
emotional outbursts. These clusters have along with
leadership proved effectiveness in the corporate
world, and hopefully in the public sector, in alleviating poor service delivery. The transformational leadership style has been identified as effective in
numerous research studies undertaken over decades
(Bass & Avolio, 1995; Burns, 1978; Cooper & Sawaf,
1997; Goleman, 2000). Thus the terms effective leadership and transformational leadership style are used
interchangeably in this article.
Possessing both transformational leadership qualities and emotional competence puts public-sector
managers in a good position to obtain positive behavior and attitudes from their diverse workforce
(Cooper & Sawaf, 1997). Qualified and competent
managers should be hired to provide the public with
the best basic services from government. According to
Luthuli (2009), the public service should have leadership practices that are driven by emotional awareness
and vision rather than by self-interest, and which are
refreshed from time to time by necessary interventions
such as training programs. Sangweni (2003) concluded
that the performance of public-sector managers
should be monitored and where people lack skills,
they should be supported through training. This
would ensure a clear path for the capacity-building
of public service managers.
This article reports on the perceived relationship
between leadership effectiveness and the EI and awareness of managers in the public sector, and the impact of
this relationship on service delivery.
What follows is a brief overview of management
practices in the public sector, followed by a brief comprehensive conceptualization of transformational leadership and emotional competence.
Management trends in public-sector
There is a perceived little shared information of the qualities required for effective leadership in today’s public
services. Hence, people are hired into public service managerial position whilst they lack required qualities. There
is also a growing concern that leaders often do not understand the reason for their own effectiveness, so how do
we expect them to be effective. This shows lack of clear
goals and ambitions by the public service managers
(Performance and Innovation Unit 2001). This situation
led to service delivery deficiencies in South Africa, even
after 15 years of democracy. As a result, managers in the
public sector are generally perceived as incompetent when
compared to their counterparts in private organizations
(Naidoo, 2009; Sangweni, 2003). This notion is attributed
to the public sector’s perceived poor performance when it
comes to delivering quality services to the public. Wright
and Pandey (2010) argue that it is generally expected that
transformational leaders or managers will be less common in public-sector than private-sector organizations,
because the former are thought to rely more on bureaucratic control mechanisms that provide institutional substitutes for leadership. Contrary to these expectations,
however, research has consistently found that transformational leadership behavior is at least as common and
effective in public as in private organizations (Dumdum,
Lowe, & Avolio, 2002). Effective transformational leadership is feasible and could contribute greatly to the public
service. However, this is possible only if managers possess
and practice this leadership style. Highly developed countries such as the UK, USA, and Canada are still experiencing poor service delivery because of the lack of effective
management practices in their public sectors (Bourantas
& Papalexandris, 2001). In the UK, a survey of the public
service study found that leadership is crucial to achieving
departmental objectives. Developing leadership and management skills was found to be essential in improving the
quality of service delivered. Continuous development and
training of managers, especially on transformations,
diversity, or change management skills, will alleviate
lack of change and progress in the public service and
enhance quality service delivery (Hewison & Griffiths,
2004). South African managers need to adopt a transformational leadership style and contribute positively to the
country as a whole through quality service delivery. The
current training and development and recruitment practices should be improved so that they embrace extended
and scientific methods of selection.
Other countries have tried several strategies in a bid
to improve the leadership capacities of their public
servants. For example, the UK focuses on appropriate
leadership competencies such as EI. In Canada focus is
on efforts oriented toward intellectual, future-building,
management, relationship-oriented, and personal competencies. New Zealand’s focus is on integration, the
citizen, alignment, and enhancing the people and the
culture of the state sector. Victoria State develops skills,
aptitudes, and outlooks among its new leaders. Lastly,
Queensland, especially through its governance committee, is looking to its public service leaders to better
understand and respond to the needs and requirements
of government through the application of a performance-focused system of strategic management
(Australian Public Service Commission, 2003).
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Effective leadership style
Debate about a correct definition of leadership goes
back as far as the 1920s and continued into the 1990s,
when the concept of transformational leadership was
introduced and generally accepted. After exhaustively
examining the trait, behavioral and situational/contingency theories, and the transactional leadership style,
researchers concluded that the transformational leadership style was the more effective. According to the
research, transformational leaders are able to bring
about major changes in employees’ attitudes and values
so that they strive to achieve organizational objectives.
This is usually done through the transformation process and involves thoughtfulness, motivation, change,
and influence, the overall label being employee empowerment (Bass & Avolio, 1995; Burns, 1978; Cooper &
Sawaf, 1997; Goleman, 2000)). With the main aim of
increasing performance, job satisfaction, and loyalty to
the organization, managers strive for a transformational
leadership style. Thus awareness and use of this leadership style is important to overall service delivery in this
country (Cooper & Sawaf, 1997; Goleman, 2000).
The transformational leadership style was first conceptualized by Burns (1978) and has become one of the
most prominent theories of organizational behavior.
Transformational leadership is defined in terms of a
leader’s ability to influence his or her subordinates by
making use of vision, charismatic powers, leading by
example, inspiring and empowering subordinates in
decision-making, and by motivating them to achieve
organizational objectives (Bass & Avolio, 1997; Parry,
1998). Transformational leaders motivate behavior by
changing their followers’ attitudes and assumptions. To
direct and inspire individual effort, these leaders transform their followers by raising their awareness of the
importance of organizational outcomes; this activates
followers’ higher-order needs and induces them to
transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the
organization. Although such leadership was originally
expected to be distinct from, and more effective than,
reward- or transaction-based leadership, empirical
findings have consistently suggested that successful leaders augment their use of beneficial transactional behaviors with more transformational ones (Bass & Riggio,
2006). Therefore, transformational leadership is generally the most appropriate and effective leadership style.
Consequently, it is a prerequisite for public-sector managers to possess transforming skills (Bourantas &
Papalexandris, 2001; Sangweni, 2003).
According to Wright and Pandey (2010), leading by
transforming followers and their commitment to the
organizational mission requires a number of conditions
to be met. First, leaders must inspirationally motivate
employees by clearly articulating an appealing vision of
the organization’s mission and future. Creating a
vision, however, is not enough. Transformational leaders must also encourage and help their followers to
work toward that vision. Thus a second, but closely
related, condition is that the leader becomes a source
of idealized influence, functioning as a role model
(modeling behaviors consistent with the stated vision)
and building employee confidence and pride in the
organization. Similarly, a third condition is that leaders
must help followers achieve the mission by intellectually stimulating them to challenge old assumptions
about organizational problems and practices. In using
these three factors—inspirational motivation, idealized
influence, and intellectual stimulation—transformational leaders essentially direct, inspire, and empower
their employees. Research has not only validated the
existence of transformational leadership but has also
consistently linked the practice of these transformational leadership behaviors with employee performance
and satisfaction (Bass & Riggio, 2006), even in government (Trottier, Van Wart, & Wang, 2008) and nonprofit organizations (Egri & Herman, 2000).
In 1995, the South African government embarked on
a quest to transform public-sector departments to provide quality services to the diverse South African population (Fraser-Moleketi, 2007). In order to succeed, the
transformation required transformational leaders.
However, based on the current state of affairs in
terms of service delivery, these transformational leaders
have not appeared. Transformational leaders are seen
as change agents who direct, inspire, and empower
their employees (Downey, Gardner, Papageorgiou &
Stough 2006; Ferres, Travaglione, & Spencer, 2004),
and these qualities were and still are prerequisites for
public-sector managers. Not much research has been
done on the relationship between emotional competence and transformational leadership and their impact
on service delivery in the South African public sector. It
is deemed necessary to align transformational leadership with public-sector managers in South Africa. This
leadership style has been identified as a possible critical
component of good public governance (OECD 2001).
According to the OECD (op.cit.), for good public governance, the main focus should be on developing a
competence profile for future leaders, identifying and
selecting potential future leaders, encouraging mentorship and training, and the need for leadership
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Emotional competence
Along with transformational leadership behaviors, certain competencies such as interpersonal skills, empathy,
and EI are prerequisites for the success of the leader or
manager (Goleman, 1998; 2000; Spencer & Spencer,
1993; Orioli, Jones, & Trocki, 1999; Salovey & Mayer,
1990; Rosier & Jeffrey, 1994). Hence the introduction of
emotional competence in the transformational leadership styles of managers in the public sector. Being
emotionally competent implies being able to self-regulate emotions and consider and manage others’ emotions, while being able to assertively express one’s own
feelings or emotions (Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Salovey &
Grewal, 2005). Emotional competence was found to be
important for managerial positions as it enhances effective management practices (Boyatzis, Goleman, & Rhee,
2000; Goleman, 1998; 2000).
The term used by Salovey and Mayer (1990), emotional competence, was later developed by Goleman
(1998), who divided it into four domains consisting of
the following clusters: emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence, emotional selfcontrol, adaptability, achievement drive, conscientiousness, initiative, and trustworthiness. Two of the clusters, namely emotional self-awareness (which is
expression of emotion) and emotional self-control or
regulation, were the main focus in the study on which
this research is based. Emotional expression is the ability to express one’s own emotions to others, meticulously and at the appropriate time (Mayer & Salovey,
1997), whereas emotional regulation means controlling
one’s own emotions, thus eliminating emotional
Emotion expression
A more comprehensive definition of emotion expression is provided in the EQ Map manual (Orioli et al.,
1999). Emotion expression is described as “the degree
to which a person can express his/her feelings and
explore his/her ability to verbalise emotions in a way
that puts this information to productive use” (Qmetrics
1997: p.6). This definition describes emotion expression
as a behavioral competency, and it relates to the ability
of a leader to express his/her emotions constructively in
interpersonal situations (Gardner, 1983). Positive significance between emotional expression and effective
leadership was identified (Barsade, 1998). It is suggested that if public-sector managers are able to express
their emotions, they will be effective leaders. Testing
emotion expression is therefore suggested in the
recruitment and selection of managers (Gardner &
Stough, 2002).
Emotion regulation
This term is defined as a person’s ability to stay calm
and focused and emotionally grounded in the face of
disagreement or interpersonal conflict, or any other
situation in which a person is provoked (Goleman,
1998; Q-Metrics, 1997; Rosier & Jeffrey, 1994; Spencer
& Spencer, 1993). The ability to control emotions
induces the ability to segregate pleasant and unpleasant
emotions and to avoid engaging in negative emotional
outbursts and impulses (Boyatzis, 1982; Goleman,
Public-sector managers as leaders are confronted
with emotionally arousing situations almost every day.
In such situations, they should know “when and how to
act” (Orioli et al., 1999). Behavioral approaches to
leadership identify being articulate, having confidence
and being approachable or down-to-earth as determinants of effective leadership (Blake & Mouton, 1964;
Stogdill, 1974). Some of these behaviors are also relevant to controlling emotions and expressing them
articulately. However, Bourantas and Papalexandris
(2001) found that public-sector managers do not have
an adequate level of these emotional competencies,
although Gardner and Stough (2002) state that managers should be aware of their emotions (emotional
competence) in order to thoroughly and appropriately
express and regulate their emotions at all times. A
significant relationship was found between emotional
competence and effective management or leadership in
the private sector (Goleman, 1998; 2000; Orioli et al.,
1999; Rosier & Jeffrey, 1994; Salovey & Mayer, 1990;
Spencer & Spencer, 1993). Diggins (2004) also identified emotional competence as an important component
of the effectiveness of public-sector managers.
Emotionally competent managers regulate their emotions by being calm, focused, and emotionally
grounded (in control). They are self-sufficient, open,
great communicators, and team players (Orioli et al.,
1999). It appears that an ability to express and control
one’s emotions is important for managers in the public
sector because they have many subordinates, all with
diverse skills, personalities, expectations, and demographics. Therefore, these emotional competence skills
may be useful during confrontations with subordinates
about work.
The relationship between emotional competencies,
transformational leadership, and their impact on public
service managers is discussed in the literature review
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Emotional competencies, transformational
leadership style, and public service managers
The primary function of government is to ensure continual high-quality service delivery. This applies to all
services offered by government departments, nationally,
provincially, and locally (Bauer, 2009). But what happens
if the same managers who should oversee the quality
provision of these services are themselves incompetent?
Most studies on transformational leadership style and
emotional competence were done in the USA, Britain,
and Canada, which are highly developed countries
(Bourantas & Papalexandris, 2001). Africa, more specifically South Africa, has seen few studies on the relationship between a transformational leadership style and
emotional competence, especially in the public sector.
Research from the corporate world has shown that both
transformational leadership style and emotional competencies contribute highly to effective management
(Gardner & Stough, 2002; Goleman, 1995; 2000), implying that transformational leadership in the public sector
will lead to high-quality service delivery. Various studies
(Goleman, 1995; Posner & Kouzes, 1993; Sosick &
Megerian, 1999) investigated the relationship between
transformational leadership style and emotional competencies and found significant correlations. Based on the
existing literature, transformational leadership may be
associated with highly effective organizations.
Figure 1 shows the inter-effects of transformational
leadership and emotional competencies on managers
in the public sector. Transformational leadership style
is at the helm, which means that managers must first
adopt this style. While adopting or acquiring the leadership style, managers will learn emotional
Figure 1. The impact of effective leadership style and emotional competence on managers in the public sector.
competencies (social/soft skills) and incorporate
them into the style. Constructive utilization of both
transformational leadership style and emotional competencies (emotion regulation and control) will yield
better results from the managers, and ultimately their
respective departments.
Data was collected using the scientifically proven, valid,
and reliable instruments the Multifactor Leadership
Questionnaire and the EQ Map, which measure leadership style and emotional competence respectively.
Data from 126 senior managers and managers from
the Limpopo Provincial Government department, who
constituted 40% of the total population of 265, was
analyzed. The result shown in Table 1 was that there
is no significant correlation between the two emotional
competencies and the transformational leadership qualities of managers.
The results indicate that the respondents (managers)
have the ability to some degree to express their feelings
constructively in an interpersonal situation. However,
when they are provoked they are neither emotionally
expressive nor able to regulate their emotions. They
may thus shout at and scare their subordinates instead
of building relationships.
Table 1. Results on the relationship between effective leadership (transformational) and emotional competence (emotion expression
and regulation).
Transformational leadership style
Pearson correlations
Emotion expression
Emotion regulation
With this in mind, a conclusion is that public-sector
managers specific to the sample are not emotionally
competent and lack transformational leadership skills.
Transformational leadership skills and emotional competence include numerous soft skills such as interpersonal skills, empathy, relationship-building, conflict
management, and assertiveness skills. All are crucial
for any leader in any setting.
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Toward a better public service delivery: broad
recommendations for public-sector reforms
According to Hood (1991), improved efficiency is now
the overriding aim of public-sector reforms in most
African countries, including South Africa. It is thought
that the State’s capability—its ability to promote and
undertake collective action efficiently—is overextended.
Therefore, reductions and a refocusing of the State’s
activities are needed to improve macroeconomic stability and to implement stronger incentives for performance. Furthermore, increased competition in service
provision, in both the private and the public sectors, is
required in order to raise efficiency.
Despite the move to reduce the role of the public
sector, there is broad agreement about the need to
increase the capacity of the State. “Re-engineering”
(Hope 2001) or “invigorating” (Klitgaard, 1997) public
institutions is required. To do this, a variety of measures are used, including refocusing public-sector functions through staff reductions and changes in budgetary
allocations; restructuring public organizations by reorganizing ministries; decentralizing, delinking, or
“hiving off” central government functions to local governments or the private sector; emphasis on privatesector styles of management practice; marketization
and introduction of competition in service provision;
and explicit standards and measures of performance.
From the psychological perspective, though, government should transform its operations procedures by
hiring competent and qualified managers. This requires
a comprehensive recruitment process, which should
include personality tests, assessment centers to verify
certain competencies. Relevant skills and behaviors
such as EI and awareness and effective leadership practices should be sought from potential managers. This
will indeed lead to effective public service (Bourantas &
Papalexandris, 2001; Sangweni, 2003). Also interpersonal skills should be assessed from the potential managers for their ability to regulate the relationship
between themselves and their subordinates. This is so
because the effectiveness of managers as leaders
depends to a large extent on the behavior that they
exhibit during interactions with their subordinates.
A recommendation for the future in South Africa is
that existing public-sector managers should be trained
to increase their level of emotional competence. The
training should be on emotional self-awareness, awareness of others’ emotions, management of relationships,
anger management, and assertiveness skills. With these
skills, managers will benefit not only their respective
departments, but the whole country. Given the diversified South African workforce and the changes brought
by ILO, globalization, and increased pressure on service
delivery, managers need to be change agents or transformers. They should adopt the “we-are-doing” and do
away with “we-can-do” frame of reference. These attitudes can only be installed through training and capacity-building programs. Through training managers
can learn both emotional competencies and transformational leadership practices for success in their jobs
(Goleman, 1998).
The above research revealed an insight into the lack of
a positive relationship between a transformational leadership style and emotional competence in the case of
managers in the public service of South Africa. The
literature reviewed indicated a need to improve the
leadership skills and emotional competencies of managers in the public sector. It also mentioned that the
public could benefit from managers having these skills
because they could improve the delivery of high-quality
The results of the research therefore suggest that
stricter and more comprehensive policies for hiring
managers in the public service be developed. More
attention should be given to the following:
Assessment and intervention regarding the emotional competence of the managers, to ensure a
high level of clear communication and decisionmaking by the managers
● Development and training of transformational leadership styles to enhance the effective management of change and diversity in government
Managers should be hired because of their qualifications, competence, skills, training, and experience. This
will have a direct effect on service delivery, as the
manager will have the drive, passion, and knowledge
to provide quality service delivery. Current managers
should be provided with opportunities to develop their
ability to express and control their emotions through
training. More training and development on leadership
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effectiveness should be the main priority of government
in terms of its existing managers. By implementing
these strategies or interventions, the country will eliminate protest actions against poor service delivery that
take place almost every year.
The literature provides a substantial amount of evidence that transformational leadership skills and emotional competencies are crucial for service delivery, and
these should be prerequisites for every manager in the
public sector. Managers in this country need to be
trained, groomed, and positioned well for maximum
performance and the ultimate improvement of service
delivery. The South African government should
appoint only qualified and competent managers who
will enhance service delivery, in order to live up to its
principle of “Batho pele.”
This work was funded by National Research Fund (South
Africa) and Cannon-Collins.
Tshepo Matjie
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