Original Research

Insights into leadership practices in South African Higher Education

Beverly G. Venter, Marieta du Plessis, Marius W. Stander
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 50 | a2173 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v50i0.2173 | © 2024 Beverly G. Venter, Marieta du Plessis, Marius W. Stander | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 December 2023 | Published: 30 April 2024

About the author(s)

Beverly G. Venter, Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa; Optentia Research Focus Area, Faculty of Humanities, North-West University, Vanderbijlparkand, South Africa
Marieta du Plessis, Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa
Marius W. Stander, Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa; and Optentia Research Focus Area, Faculty of Humanities, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa

Abstract

Orientation: The complexity of higher education highlights leadership’s significance. Effective leadership ensures quality education and institutional survival, with senior academics (specifically, professors and associate professors) greatly influencing reputation and research. Exploring senior academics’ leadership experiences is therefore crucial.

Research purpose: This study aimed to explore senior academics’ experiences of leadership behaviours at a South African higher education institution, extracting their experiences of positive and negative behaviours.

Motivation for the study: Senior academics play significant roles, with vital teaching, research, and reputation contributions to the quality of the university’s educational service. Despite numerous leadership studies, none have explored senior academics’ experiences in South Africa.

Research approach/design and method: In this study, a qualitative descriptive design was employed to investigate the experiences and perspectives of 14 senior academics. The participants were selected using stratified random and snowball sampling techniques.

Main findings: Participants experienced positive, effective behaviours and negative, destructive behaviours, highlighting the complexity of leadership experiences through contrasting experiences. Positive, effective leadership behaviours include constructive engagement, compassionate support, psychological safety and enabling growth. Negative, destructive leadership behaviours include poor communication and collaboration, eroding integrity and regard, unresolved issues, depersonalisation and toxic practices.

Practical/managerial implications: Understanding experiences and implementing recommendations could incorporate positive leadership behaviours into competency frameworks for human resources practices. Awareness of the leadership ethos dichotomy can potentially establish a unique and characteristic leadership culture.

Contribution/value-add: This study provides senior academics’ leadership behaviour perspectives and produces lists of positive and negative leadership practices.


Keywords

leadership; leadership behaviours; academic leadership; positive leadership; destructive leadership; higher education.

JEL Codes

I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education

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