Presentation looks at leadership legitimacy during radical change

Belinda Bantham -- Wed, 10/07/2020 - 12:27

Presentation looks at leadership legitimacy during radical change

The Optentia research focus area in the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Faculty of Humanities hosted an online presentation on leadership legitimacy during radical change on 6 October 2020.

Prof Linda du Plessis, vice-principal and deputy vice-chancellor for planning and Vanderbijlpark Campus operations, was the keynote speaker.

Prof Du Plessis’s presentation was based on the findings of her research from her most recent doctorate, an international Professional Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) degree.

Her presentation focused on using sense-making and institutional theory as lenses to explain radical change to better understand the complexity of universities and the multifaceted demands they face.

Prof Du Plessis said in South Africa and across the globe, public universities find themselves in an era of unplanned radical change. This change is driven by many factors, including massification, increasing pressure to climb the ranking ladders and the need to provide affordable higher education.

“In South Africa, the need to overcome past inequalities amidst a broader and unstable economic climate contributes to the complexity,” said Prof Du Plessis.

“Universities are conceptualised as consisting of many dynamic processes that recurrently suffer the influence of the actions of its social actors.”

 She said the question that arises is: how do university officials maintain legitimacy during this radical change?

“In an attempt to comprehend the legitimation process of an institution and its leadership, change agents need to be aware of the different stakeholders that affect the legitimacy, and what the legitimacy issues relevant to those respective groups are,” she added.

According to Prof Du Plessis the overreliance on compliance may yield positive results in a country with high levels of normative legitimacy and a flourishing economy. However, in South Africa, with a lack of normative legitimacy and poor socio-economic conditions, the rational myths on which public universities are built, seem to no longer meet the legitimate demands of a knowledge institution.

“There is a need to enhance the understanding of the sense-making of legitimacy during radical change. An informed analysis can provide useful insight for future leaders on steering change in a complex environment.”

About Prof Linda du Plessis

Prof Du Plessis has been working in higher education for 28 years, of which 18 years have been in management.

She has been involved in a range of projects, including serving as member of the national task team that developed the revised funding framework for higher education. She was a project leader of an international research collaboration project focusing on teacher training, funded by the British Council and in partnership with the University of East London.

Prof Du Plessis was originally trained as an IT programmer and systems analyst and has a MScHons degree in information systems.

She also holds a PhD in education, for which her thesis considered the integration of technology and action learning for the training of information system learners.

She recently became the first South African to successfully complete the DBA degree at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

 Prof Linda du Plessis.