Enhancing an ethical culture through purpose - directed leadership for improved public service delivery: A case for South Africa..


Nirmala Dorasamy

The fundamental purpose of government departments is to provide services to satisfy public needs. Public leaders have to take on organisational roles to decide how to best achieve the organisation’s purpose of meeting human needs and enhancing human life. An ethical culture underpinning purpose-driven leadership is viewed as an effective approach that will promote the broader interests of society in respect of public service delivery. This article focuses on the possible contribution of a purpose-directed leadership approach within the South African public service toward enhancing ethical behaviour which can ultimately translate into improved public service delivery. Attention is devoted to the capacity of such an approach in creating a milieu of commitment toward service excellence, this article argues that unethical behaviour in the public service has impacted on the quality of service delivery in many government departments in South Africa. A review of reports by the Public Service Commission and the media suggest that quality public service delivery has been affected by the lack of an ethical culture within purpose directed leadership. Through a detailed review of literature and documents relating to poor public service delivery in South Africa, it has become imperative to explore the effect of ethical and purpose-directed leadership on public service delivery. This article further argues that through ethical and purpose driven leadership, the mission statement of the public service is not only communicated to all concerned, but it is also clarified and understood and becomes the driving force in delivering what is to be achieved, without compromising the quality of public services. Performance in support of the purpose can be the building blocks upon which an ethical culture is developed throughout all government departments. Public leaders must therefore use the organisational purpose as a frame of reference for the execution of all functions within the organisation so that public satisfaction can be best achieved, without compromising ethical behaviour. The public service needs to accord greater importance and focus to leadership based on purpose-driven activities to address some of the ethical issues affecting quality service delivery. Some of the ethical issues include conflict of interest, mismatch post appointments and lack of commitment to quality service delivery. By adhering to the purpose, the principles of public service delivery beyond personal aspirations and ambitions are prioritised. The study is contextualized through a general overview of the role of leadership, within an ethical and purpose-directed framework, in promoting quality services in the public sector.

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