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Complex adaptive leadership approach in the South African local government: a case of uMzimkhulu Local Municipality, South Africa.

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The South African local governments are faced with a growing trend of service delivery protests from a population that requires an array of high-quality services. To overcome the service delivery challenges faced by South African local government there is a need for strong adaptive leadership. The main objective of this study was to recommend an adaptive complex leadership style towards achieving optimal performance in a specific South African Local Municipality with a view to assisting local government to achieve optimal service delivery and reach set goals of the South African Constitution. This study was conducted in the uMzimkhulu Local Municipality. A mixed-method approach was used. Data were collected through interviews and a survey questionnaire. Qualitative data were analyzed through the use of NVIVO software and quantitative data were analysed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 24. A total of 112 respondents completed the questionnaires and 11 participants were interviewed. The findings of this study revealed that effective leadership strategies should be adaptive to complex internal and external environmental factors. Leadership effectiveness is affected by several internal environmental factors. These internal factors include personality clashes among employees, conflicting interests between management, tensions from agent interactions, management unwillingness to embrace innovation, lack of skills among employees, employee lack of passion and a lack of organisational cohesion. External factors affecting leadership included: technology, political influence, public pressure, economic factors and changes in the needs of residents. A model for complex adaptive leadership should include leadership that is enabling, administrative, and adaptive, and must have a combination of different leadership styles. In conclusion the model confirms that leadership is a complex phenomenon as it demands the understanding and appreciation of various factors occurring simultaneously. Leadership decision making requires an understanding such complex internal and external factors. From the study, it is recommended that future studies should focus on understanding the cause of the internal and external complexities affecting leadership in local municipalities.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.