Cultural Values and Its Influence on the Enactment of Leadership in Public Sector Organisations: A Case Research in Brunei

Cultural Values and Its Influence on the Enactment of Leadership in Public Sector Organisations: A Case Research in Brunei

Pg Siti Rozaidah Pg Hj Idris (Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/IJABIM.20211001.oa1
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This research contributes to our understanding of leadership in public sector organisations by examining the influence of national culture on the enactment of public sector leadership in the context of Brunei. It followed a qualitative interpretivist research approach employing semi-structured interviews involving public sector leaders in Brunei. This research contributes to existing debates that claim that public sector leadership is context specific and contingent upon cultural backgrounds and the national cultures of specific countries and emerging nations. The findings suggest national culture appear to have a constraining influence on public sector leadership, where tension exists between abiding to Islamic work ethics and cultural tribal activities, particularly relating to the issues of fairness and justice regarding recruitment, selection, and promotion.
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The focus of this research is to explore the influence of national culture; it attempts to understand Brunei Malay Muslim cultural influence on public sector leadership in the public sector of Brunei Darussalam (henceforth referred to as ‘Brunei’), a tiny, oil-rich South East Asian country located on the north-western coast of the island of Borneo. This goal is supported with data collected from among Brunei’s public sector employees, with particular emphasis on how leadership is viewed and understood in Brunei’s public sector. The government system in Brunei is influenced by its historical, religious, political and cultural background. It is a combination monarchy based on the Bruneian tradition and Western bureaucracy transplanted during the British rule. Bruneian traditional administration is hierarchical and bound by rules and protocols. However, not all bureaucratic features are in line with the Bruneian culture. Bureaucracy focuses on impersonality but such characteristics as collectivism and interdependency in Brunei society suggest personal and social relationships and group norms play an important role in influencing the behaviour of Bruneian employees at work. Bruneians share many cultural characteristics with other Asian countries. The aim of this research is to explore the influence of national culture on the enactment of leadership in public sector organisations, in the context of Brunei.

The term ‘enactment’ employed in this research focuses on the experiences of leaders engaging in leadership including their interaction with others. By focusing on the enactment process, the focus is shifted from not only looking at leaders but at the holistic process of public sector leadership, which involves the complexities and dynamics of the interaction between different levels of employees within the public sector (superior and subordinate) and the public sector environment. The role of public leaders is to proactively provide line managers with the most appropriate tools, resources and competencies to achieve organisational performance (Coupland et al., 2008; Podger, 2004). The majority of leadership studies, including public sector leadership studies, are North American in origin and much research, perhaps unwittingly, articulates positivist US values (Den Hartog & Dickson, 2004). This often acknowledged US-centrism is based on the assumption that North American values can be transposed to leadership theory, development and practice in quite different contexts from those found in the USA (Jackson & Parry, 2008). Yet, it is increasingly evident that leadership and followership dynamics take very different forms in different societies.

While this research is by no means the first to argue for validating the relevance of leadership in public administration (Behn, 1998; Fairholm, 2014; Morse & Buss, 2007; Terry, 1995; Wart, 2003)or articulating a research agenda for examining leadership in public administration (Mau, 2009; Ingraham, 2006; Van Slyke & Alexander, 2006), the research does argue for expanding research scope to include a broader reflection of leadership in the public sector. Specifically, this research argues that acts of leadership occur within all levels and sectors of government; therefore, we need to broaden the research questions to consider a broader application of leadership in the public sector. Furthermore, this study proposes a research agenda that explores beyond comparative analyses of leadership (public versus private leadership skills, contexts, and limits) and competency-based frameworks, to argue for a research agenda that supports a heuristic inquiry of how public administrators perceive the meaning of leadership in the public sector.

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