Transformational leadership is a theory more common within private sector organizations. With mergers being more common in light of globalization, it is no wonder transformational leadership is prevalent in private organizations. With the advent of New Public Management theories and concepts applied to public sector organizations over the last two decades, one would believe that transformational leadership would be easily transferable. With municipal and public organization amalgamations occurring more frequently, especially in Ontario, in healthcare with the regionalization of hospitals, merging of school boards and even transit regionalization, transformational leadership theory could possibly apply.
In this paper, I will focus on the regionalization of local transit operators in Durham Region, one that I proposed for Peel and Halton Regions in the western part of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and one that is pre-amalgamation and commission formation currently being reviewed in the Edmonton area as part of the Capital Region Board. There is an opportunity for transit regionalization to occur within the GTHA under the auspices of Metrolinx, but not under its current format as a local special purpose body without local representation. Rather, transit regionalization in the GTHA should be a part of a regional governance structure. It has already happened in smaller amalgamations within the GTHA but not on such a grand scale as being proposed.
There have been several articles in the early part of this decade that have discussed transformational leadership as they pertain to public sector organizations, but many of these articles have concluded that more research must be done (Currie & Lockett, 2007). In this paper, I will present and critique the present transformation leadership theory and how it pertains to public sector organizations. I will then analyze how transformational leadership has a dilemma in public organizations in a public policy environment especially with respect to transit regionalization. In the case of transit regionalization in Durham Region and with other mergers that have taken place, participatory and contingency leadership are the norm. I will conclude by examining the direction and ramifications of where transformational leadership theory and practice is going with respect to transit regionalization in the GTHA.
Transformational Leadership in the Theoretical Context
Transformational leaders inspire followers to transcend their self-interests for the good of the organization, and can have an extraordinary effect on their followers (Langton, Robbins, & Judge, 2014). This can be achieved in four ways: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration (Langton et al, ibid) (Wright & Pandey, 2010). Transformation leadership builds on transactional leadership and produces the level of follower efforts and performance that intend to go beyond what transactional leadership can do. These result in “higher morale, higher organizational effectiveness and greater organizational adaptability” (Langton et al, p 278). Leaders are more effective when all four behaviours are utilized. They themselves are more effective because more creativity is established, and have the ability to encourage those who follow them to be creative too. Managers have more propensity to take risks and there is usually more agreement about organizational goals, which leads to superior performance (Langton et al 2014).
On the downside, transformational leadership is less effective when leaders report to boards or deal with complex bureaucratic structures. Wright & Pandey (2010) further posit that if flexibility and discretion is necessary for transformational leadership, scholars surprisingly suggest elaborate control systems associated with bureaucratic organizations hinder both its emergence and effectiveness.
The degree for stability, predictability, and equity in bureaucratic organizations results in a reliance on structural mechanisms to limit individual discretion and promote uniformity in how employees interpret and respond to work situations. Structural characteristics associated with such strong situations include hierarchical distribution of authority, stringent formalization through rules and regulations, and a reliance on downward (and limited upward and/or lateral) communication (Wright and Pandey, p 78).
Formalization and centralization decreases the likelihood that organizational leaders will exhibit transformational behaviour. Limited use of performance measurement and lack of managerial discretion needed to link rewards to performance would be key issues that require attention when trying to understand leadership in public organizations, such as local transit (Wright & Pandey, 2010). Greater ambiguity arises in criteria for evaluating an organization’s performance and can support transformational leadership by providing leaders with greater latitude that allow objectives or measuring high performance. As a result, the research shows there is a mixed reaction to transformational leadership principles. Looking at how transformational leadership in public organizations in the realm of public policy becomes more challenging.
Transformational leadership in a public policy context
In the public policy realm, transformational leadership has mixed reviews. In both Wright & Panday (2010) and Curry & Lockett (2007), they view communication as critical within public policy realms. Although there is a greater reliance on hierarchical authority and weaker lateral or upward communications, as Wright & Panday attest (p 84-85), lower transformational leadership behaviours occur. They partially support the need for flexibility while suggesting that the type or level of flexibility required maybe more within the purview of leaders of public sector organizations. Furthermore, leaders should use a broad array of communications tools and empowerment practices within their organizations.
With Curry & Lockett (2007) they “delineate” transformation leadership in the policy context by calling it participatory or managerialist. Participatory leadership involves users and the development and delivery of public services. The other side conceives participative leadership as a type of collegiality that fits with professional bureaucracy settings where anyone appointed as leader is meritorious and expected to represent their colleagues in leadership activity (Curry & Lockett, 2007). This participative leader is one of the behaviours related to path-goal theory, as will be discussed in the next paragraph.
Flexibility though is also mentioned with Curry & Lockett (2007) where contingent leadership approach should vary with organizational circumstances and problems faced by the leader. Contingency theories, as Langton et al (2014) consider the degree of structure in the task being performed, the leader’s position power, clarity of employee’s role and information ability as examples. One of the contingency theories that are closely or even a subset for transformational leadership is path-goal theory: determine the outcomes subordinates want; reward individuals with their desired outcomes; and, let individuals know what they need in order to receive rewards (Langton et al, p 273). A lack of clear goal-reward contingencies can encourage leaders to rely on the person powers, rather than the related position, which then serve as the foundation of transformational leadership, according to Wright & Panday (2010). There should be greater expectations and vision in ways that would best inspire their employees.
Given this flexibility of contingency leadership, leaders may enact limitless transformations and combinations of leadership. With transit as an example, we might expect leaders to use their education, morals, values and philosophies along with their merited credibility to the profession (Currie & Lockett, 2007). The contingency approach to leadership may sit well with those who are comfortable with the status quo long before they are afforded the opportunity of having leadership responsibilities beyond the transit profession, as an example. Therefore, this adds to the problem of leadership in the public service.
Mergers and Transit Regionalization
With post-amalgamation of the cities and boroughs into the City of Toronto and the abolishment of two-tier government fresh in the mind of residents, many are still skeptical. Amalgamation carried out by the Ontario provincial government under Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservatives in 1998 was a harsh reality given that cities are creatures of the province.
Reforming or replacing embedded ideas, processes, interests and institutions are difficult to bring about when conditions are stable. Mergers as a strategy for problem solving appears in times of instability or crisis, when there are increased opportunities and incentives for reformers to contest embedded ideas, processes and boundaries (Tomblin, 2007). A crisis that cannot be defined or resolved by existing processes and practice creates opportunities for sellers of new frameworks of interpretation and systems of governance (Tomblin, 2007).
One approach to transformation, as Tomblin (2007) writes involves gradually reforming the system from within by incrementally co-opting new ideas and frameworks. York and Durham Region Transit and the proposal for Peel and Halton Regions (Darmanin, 2013) is an incremental approach that a transformational leader could ascribe to. Civic leaders from the Capital Region Board in Edmonton began the process towards transit regionalization in 2012.
Regionalization can also reshape, mend and refocus culture by having a consistent mission and central role of employees when achieving this mission (Wright and Pandey, 2010). Public transit amalgamations are classified as horizontal types of mergers so generally missions and values are similar in nature. In other words, mergers appear to work better where there exists greater possibility of “integration and articulation between the goals and visions where missions and cultures are complementary (Harman & Harman, 2003).
||Roles are more prescribed
||Loyalties are directed more to the transit operator and to their respective profession (ie P. Eng or MCIP)
||Service to the profession the key criteria for promotion and recognition
||Structures more hierarchical and bureaucratic.
Table 1 – Chart modified from Harman and Harman (p 38)
The original chart (Table 1) from Harman and Harman (2003) outlined the differing loyalties and values of academic staff in universities and community colleges. From my experience working in transit operations, I equate those who are loyal and ascribe to those values would be similar to those employees within community colleges.
Transit amalgamations occur when the lead transit agency wants to strengthen their market position. In this case, regionalization would be inevitable to limit the competition for funding dollars from senior levels of government and to strengthen its position on the national scale. Furthermore, amalgamations happen to enhance efficiency and have the opportunity to operate in more locations, as was the case with Durham Regional Transit when they amalgamated in 2010 (Durham Region Transit, 2004).
While reviewing the pre-merger documents for transit regionalization in Durham and Edmonton (2012 and 2014), much of what was outlined in Currie & Lockett still holds true. The language for example in the Durham Region Business Case Analysis (2006) under organizational culture is as follows:
The regionalization of transit provides an opportunity to create a transit organization specifically structured to effectively deliver services that respond to the policies, goals and objectives of the Community Strategic Plan, Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan and the Transit Improvement Plan (Durham Region, p 155)
In the Capital Region Board Interim Report (Capital Region Board, 2012) and Intermunicipal Governance Study Report (Capital Region Board, 2014) little was mentioned about any type of leader that should be behind this transformation, because of the political process involved. The lead on this project is in fact the Capital Region Transit Task Force Board Members who seek to amalgamate Edmonton Transit System with St. Albert Transit and Strathcona County Transit. The consultants on the Interim report advised on setting up a governance structure related to a commission, yet the Governance Study did not reiterate the structure but only stuck with the technical and policy implications for such an amalgamation.
The impact of mergers on operating efficiency is of the public interest. Issues related several policy to transit amalgamations in Ontario are:
- Relationship with provincial planning policies and legislations
- Service provision is heavily subsidized by central or regional governments, as is the case with Durham, York and Waterloo.
- Productivity and efficiency
Amalgamations are in a situation where all transit operators are subsidized and being informed of their operational performance during negotiations for subsidies with senior governments inspires competition in the transit sector (Odeck, 2008). Acquiring properties through an amalgamation are based on economies of scale to improve on their efficiency.
Mergers in the private sector represent a very different organizational change process. Top leaders must assume the role of chief architect of the change process. Employees must be involved in the change process (Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy, 2006). Transformational leadership is the key to describing how organizational cultures are created and maintained. As Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy (2006) refer to Avolio & Bass, they demonstrate sentimental reactions to transformational leader behaviours such as inspiring others and creating and communicating vision and direction. Under the public policy framework, this is difficult to accomplish because of ingrained attitudes. Leadership is essentially a process of social influence in which individuals want to feel included, supported and reinforced, especially during change (Kavanagh & Ashkanasy, 2006). Transformation leaders must be able to select an appropriate approach, establish effective channels of communication, select willing partners and get buy-in from the more difficult partners (Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy 2006). In a process where amalgamating larger transit properties would be taking over smaller properties in the GTHA, because it is a more difficult process, even with the policy context in play. With smaller properties such as Oakville and Milton, they might not be willing partners in such a process because of the customer relationships or passenger value. An incremental approach to transit regionalization such as one for Halton and Peel Regions could be much better visually to the public and for internal employees of those transit properties. Currie and Lockett (2007) suggest this sensitive policy context and could be a satisfactory approach for all parties.
Although there is limited research available regarding transformational leadership in public organizations, in conclusion, the theory is very difficult to apply in practice. An incremental approach to transit regionalization for the GTHA rather than a large scale transit regionalization by Metrolinx might be the best solution. A transformational leader may arise when the public is more comfortable with the process of regional governance. With Metrolinx being an agency of the province, a leader will not come from there and a top down approach to regionalization might not be the best option visually. It might be best that someone shows contingency leadership where the leader is flexible in their approach and is able to communicate inside and outside the organization.
At this time, it is difficult to say whether a GTHA transit regionalization would be best served with a transformational leader. If the market conditions are ripe for such a merger, a transformational leader will most likely come out of the final regional incremental merger that takes place. In public organizations, politicians delegate power and influence to the managers and technical staff. The real power of public employees and leaders is restrictive by political interests. In private corporations, the main objective is profit, and profit is easier to quantify than public good.
Currie, G., & Lockett, A. (2007). A critique of transformation leadership: Moral, professional and contingent dimensions of leadership within public service organizations. Human Relations, 60(2), 341-370. Retrieved June 13, 2015
Darmanin, A. (2013, April 13). The Case for a Halton-Peel Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved from The Urban Strategist: https://theurbanstrategist.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/the-case-for-a-halton-peel-regional-transit-authority/
Durham Region Transit. (2004, October 27). Business Case Analysis for the Potential Transfer of Lower-Tier Municipal Transit Service to the Regional Municipality of Durham. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from Durham Region Transit: https://www.durhamregiontransit.com/AboutDRT/Documents/TSH%20Business%20Case%20Analysis%20Oct%2027%202004_PartTwo.pdf
Harman, G., & Harman, K. (2003, January). Institutional Mergers in Higher Education: Lessons from an International Experience. Tertiary Education and Management, 9(1), 29-44. Retrieved June 9, 2015
Langton, N., Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2014). Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour, 5th Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson Education.
Odeck, J. (2008). The effect of mergers on efficiency and productivity of public transport services. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 42(4), 696-708. Retrieved June 9, 2015
Tomblin, S. G. (2007). Effecting change and transformation through regionalization: theory versus practice. Canadian Public Administration, 50(1), 1-20. Retrieved June 9, 2015
Wright, B. E., & Pandey, S. K. (2010). Transformational Leadership in the Public Sector: Does Structure Matter? Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20(1), 75-89. Retrieved June 7, 2015, from http://jpart.oxfordjournals.org