Strategic leadership and employee engagement at the University of the Witwatersrand

encouragement. v Abstract The research was conducted on a single higher education institution (the University of the Witwatersrand) using qualitative methodology. Results were determined from twelve qualitative interviews ranging from a top bottom to a bottom up approach within the organisation. The research served to establish if a change in strategic leadership affected employee engagement within this institution by using a three dimensional model of leadership as the conceptual framework, which according to Bell (2009), if working in tandem would result in a well-led organisation. This model assisted linking the concept of leadership and how it affects each dimension, as well as identifying which of the three dimensions was perceived to be of importance to the employees. The research established that the three dimensional model is being applied within this higher education institution, however, not in tandem, as evidence points to emphasis being placed on two dimensions with the third, being that of people leadership, lacking. Respondents identified the new style of leadership, organisational change and lack of communication between the leader and the led as the main contributor to the shaken status of employee engagement at the institution. The research also included interviews with a Deputy Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor to determine their views and experiences as they sat on the opposite side of the fence, hence clarity on their roles and mandates in relation to leadership and employee engagement was critical for the sake of objectivity. These interviews highlighted that at each level on the hierarchy, one was greeted by very different views and experiences on the issues of strategic leadership, organisational change and employee engagement. Leadership stated that in order for the organisation to reach it’s strategic goals and mandates within a short term, instantaneous change in the way people think and act was required. Leadership had and will continue to therefore make some hard decisions that will shake the institution to it’s core and place people in a very uncomfortable space. Given the lapse of time, by this reference is made to the last ten years that passed, vi within which the institution , should have reached set goals but did not due to various reasons, time for extreme change according to leadership was critical and had to therefore be immediate, forceful and non-negotiable. Employees on the other hand, who were on the receiving end, expressed feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, insecurity and unhappiness. From their views and experiences it was evident that firstly, not all employees shared the same experiences and this was largely due to levels of seniority which seemed to give some more access to information on what was happening in the institution as opposed to others. This therefore afforded these individuals a greater advantage in understanding and coping with the change that was being implemented. Secondly, middle management level employees (administrative) were amongst the higher percentage of employees interviewed and expressed a sense of alienation from leadership. Employees overall, felt that change was good but were not happy or convinced about the rate at which it was happening or the manner in which it was being implemented as being the answer to reaching institutional goals. Leadership’s unrealistic expectations and employees struggle with dealing with change while meeting these expectations according to respondents, has led to employees wavering faith in the new leadership and their engagement being placed in a “sitting on a fence” scenario. This research also brought to light the human aspect of coping with change, positing that human’s basic needs as per Maslow’s hierarchy supersedes the vain attempt of remunerative change. It goes far beyond just development and climbing the career ladder. An employee’s basic need for trust, happiness, recognition and security if met by their leader, is the recipe for productive, positive, continued engagement to meet institutional goals and objectives. This would mean that engagement must happen within all three dimensions, if a well–led organisation moving in successful motion is to be achieved.
Thesis (M.M. (Public & Development Management))--University of the Witwatersrand, Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, School of Governance, 2015