Leadership is one of the key factors for development of all organizations be they small or large. This study describes the feelings and thinking of the author on leadership aspects basing on his own practical experiences from being a University of Dodoma Academic Staff Association’s Leader. The author was elected as a chairperson of the University of Dodoma Academic Staff Association (UDOMASA) in October 2010, and held the post for two terms of two years each consecutively as the constitution required. The author explains his leadership journey through different stages. The study focuses most on what it means to be a staff association or trade union leader in a higher learning institution. The study further provides details about glaring moments of comfort and upset while posing way forward for a harmonious growth for both institutions and members of the organization.
This study is a result of personal leadership experiences and reflections from higher learning institutions in Tanzania. It intends to unearth what it means to be staff association’s leader and what people view about it. Leadership may be perceived differently by different people depending on their economic, social and political backgrounds as well as relevant contexts and circumstances.
The study has tried to show how leadership is perceived by academic and other members of staff in general in their work place. The University of Dodoma (UDOM) is used as a reference point as it is a workstation of the author. UDOM was formally established in March 2007 following the signing of the charter by the president of the United Republic of Tanzania. The first academic programmes commenced in September 2007.
The University has been designed on a campus college mode each of which will be semi-autonomous. The University is guided by goal, vision, mission and objectives. The goal is to increase the contribution of higher education in Tanzania's attainment of economic growth, reduction of poverty and improved social wellbeing of Tanzanians through increased access to higher education, technological innovation, generation and application of knowledge. The vision of the university is to become a centre of excellence that offers value added training, research and public services. The mission of the university is to provide comprehensive, gender
sensitive and quality education to a broad segment of the population through teaching, research and public services in the fields of education, health and allied sciences, natural sciences, earth sciences, informatics and communication technology, business, humanities and social sciences.
The broad objective of establishing UDOM is to create in Tanzania a place where knowledge will be transferred from one generation to another, a place where through relevant teaching and learning processes human capital vested with knowledge and skills for economic development of Tanzania will be produced, and through relevant research the frontiers of knowledge will be advanced and provide solutions to the people's suffering. University of Dodoma Academic Staff Association (UDOMASA) is a gathering established by the University charter for the wellbeing of all academic staff employed at the University of Dodoma.
Leadership journey starts
When the researcher was growing up in Maasai land, the two greatest influences on his life and thought were his parents (mother and father). From his mother, the researcher learnt values of hard work, self reliance, caring for others, commitment to personal affairs and general self discipline. She did not go to school but managed to raise her children in a more disciplined manner. She used to emphasize the importance of each of us to learn to lead an independent life and try as much as possible to avoid laziness which is according to her, a big enemy to personal growth and development.
The researcher’s father was and is still a leader (Olaigwanani) of one of the most famous Maasai clan going by the name of Laizer. Though he never received formal education, he was privileged to attend informal education classes during colonial times where he learnt to read, write and count. Being a husband of three wives, he tried as much as possible to treat each of them fairly. What the researcher learnt from him are the values of openness, fairness, self esteem, self confidence, personal standing and tolerance. These values from the researcher’s own parents were and are fundamental in his subsequent life and career development in general to present.
During the researcher’s schooling, he was privileged to be a leader from standard one to high school, and up to the University as well. In standard one, he was elected a class monitor through to standard two. In standard three, he was elected Head boy through to standard six. Likewise, he held several posts in both Ordinary and Advanced levels in secondary schools. It is at this point in time when the researcher’s leadership journey started. At the University of Dar es Salaam, he tested more complex leadership experiences from students’ organization known as Dar es Salaam University Students Organization (DARUSO).
This brief leadership journey is not the focus of this study. This study is centered on leadership experiences from Academic Staff Association at the University of Dodoma. When he joined UDOM as a Tutorial Assistant in September 2008, his dream was not to become a leader but rather working hard and enrolling for Masters Degree as soon as possible to be able to exercise his academic duties proficiently. Luckily enough, he was among very few members of staff who were selected to join Masters Studies (Master of Arts in Education) at UDOM just a month after being employed. He was very happy that his academic dream is now becoming true.
Two years later, that is 2010, he completed very successfully his Master degree, and graduated in November in the same year. Something interesting is that before even graduating, his fellow staff who knew his leadership background, requested him to contest for any UDOMASA leadership post preferably General Secretary or Chairperson. He must be frank that reaching the final decision for him to contest or not was not easy because he knew how difficult the job is at that particular period of time when there was not much freedom of common staff to freely air out their views.
After several consultations and plea from people especially his close friends with whom he studied with, he finally made a decision from his own will to contest for the Chairperson Post. He believed that, the truth will set him free hence even if he might be victimized as some academicians were worried; the truth must be known to all. When the truth is known to people, they will no longer fear to speak their feelings and demand their rights.
The main strategy to accomplish this mission was to create forums for people to share experiences and ideas. When he was given a chance to express himself and tell members what he would do for them upon being elected UDOMASA chairperson, he emphasized on creating forums for people to discuss and find out solutions. The forums referred here are meetings at different levels, informal consultations and electronic means of communication (group mails). Though this strategy might have been seen ineffective and inefficient at first stance, it soon proved very successful when the meeting was convened to discussed the means of addressing both academic and social challenges of the time. It was just few days down the line they were able to establish the proper way of handling problems they encountered.
The emphasis was to find out the truth of all issues to be addressed by reading various laws, regulations, guidelines and other related documents as well as consulting relevant authorities including University Management and Ministries. The first challenge the researcher encountered is to ensure that the truth about subsistence allowance of staff on first appointment was known. Though it was a very tough task, it was possible to overcome, and those who thought the researcher might be victimized changed their minds and joined the move.
It gives the researcher a great pleasure to learn that, he survived in his leadership as UDOMASA Chairperson for four years in two consecutive terms according to UDOMASA constitution requirements. During his leadership tenure, there were several positive changes but the most important to him is change of attitude of academic and UDOM staff in general. One plausible example is the massive support of academic members of staff to UDOMASA unlike before. It became evident that the previous fears are no longer entertained since people are informed about what is going on about employment issues.
He was also able to represent UDOMASA in Academic Staff Associations of Public Universities and University Colleges of Tanzania abbreviated as ASAs. Due to active participation in ASAs, he was later elected a Chairperson to lead and organize leaders from all Public Universities and University Colleges of Tanzania. Additionally, he was appointed a member of Tanzania Higher Learning Institutions Trade Union (THTU) executive committee at National level. His humble background may have helped him to be trusted to this high position.
Description of leadership
Leadership can be described differently by different writers and scholars. Many old renowned scholars share common understanding about the meaning of leadership. They all seem to agree definition of leadership to mean; ability to influence, process of influencing, social influence and the ability of an individual to motivate.
It is therefore fair to be summarized that, leadership is about the ability of a person to influence and inspire others (followers) towards achievement of the desired goals and objectives. The focus is on creating common understanding of the people and bringing people together towards a set goal. Of recent, many scholars have tried to define leadership in relation to organizations.
Bushra and Ahmad (2011) argue that leadership plays an important role in determining employees’ commitment. Hewitt (2012) explain leadership from the point view of creating conducive engagement culture. Emphasize is that engaging leaders who engage others are not just nice to have; they are the key ingredient to creating a culture of engagement that sustains business results in an ever-changing and complex global environment. Ransdell (2014) view leadership as both an art and a science implying that, someone needs to understand what leadership entails before applying relevant principles to execute functions.
Leadership, according to this study perspective is likened with a magnet that pulls things towards itself. Just like a magnet, the leader must be endowed with certain potentials that enable him or her to mobilize or attract more people towards common understanding and interests in a natural way. Influence and followership are the two words that can best explain what leadership means. While influence is centered on a leader, followership is on the people or group of people who trust a particular leader.
After understanding the background of the author and description of leadership, it is necessary to present what actually happened (results) during leadership tenure of two years. The results of this study are presented in three categories. The categories are perceptions of members towards leadership, comfort moments and upset moments. Each category is detailed in the following sub sections.
Perception of UDOMASA members towards leadership
There is enough literature about qualities of leadership in general. This study however is introducing new qualities of leadership specifically related to staff associations or trade unions leadership. These qualities are based on the way members of association or union would wish to see their leaders appear or look like. From my personal experiences, the following are the perceptions of UDOMASA members which are actually qualities of the leader they require.
A leader is a public property
Leaders as public properties include being accessible by all people all the time when necessary and understanding to avoid segregation. All the people must feel free to share experiences with him or her. Above all, the leader must be ready to spend most of his or her time to serve people. During the researcher academic staff association leadership, he was expected to serve and listen to academic staff concerns only and not otherwise.
In due course, he came to realize that it was not a case since all UDOM staffs were expecting him to represent their views and concerns in governance organs of the University. They believed that academicians’ voice and demands are the voice and demands for all, and whenever academic leaders address their issues to the University Management for discussions and common solutions, administrative staff’s concerns are automatically covered either directly or indirectly.
The researcher was therefore reminded by people that “bear in mind that, you are a public property” meaning that he ought to understand and address issues from all university staff inclusively, and not just a section of it.
A Leader as a dust bin
This refers to preparedness of a leader to accept blames, insults, mocks, despises, etc, even if all of them are to be skeptical, baseless and unfounded. Through his leadership experiences from UDOMASA, he encountered several baseless allegations from time to time that he has been tainted by University Management that is, given money to be silenced. This happened when members’ wishes were not honored on time due to various reasons which were sometimes genuine. Additionally, he was labeled a money monger by some people because of attending meetings which have paid allowances and also travelling to various meetings outside the University where he received per diems and bus fare allowance. Most of the time when he wanted to express his disappointments or dissatisfactions, he was told to just ignore them because “a leader is a dust bin”
A leader as shock absorber
A leader must be able to contain any information given to him or her, and handle it properly. This means a leader is required to control his/her temper to avoid mishandling of sensitive issues that might arise in due course. In the researcher’s leadership experiences, people used to tell him that leaders are shock absorbers in the sense that they must be ready to receive sensitive information and handle it accordingly.
A leader as stable person
A leader should be firm and focused to avoid being derailed by events and circumstances. Emotional and psychological stability is very important to leaders. A stable leader is the one who can discourage all those irrelevant thoughts or ideas from the people. Leaders must be able to show the way not entertain followership tendency, that is, being influenced by mobs even when unnecessary.
A leader as problem solver
A leader is supposed to appreciate that challenges and conflicts are a fact of life in organizations. Crafts of how to deal with these problems are required. Problem solving can be done through creating awareness, discussions, meetings etc. Some of the problems are caused by lack of information. More important is that staff association/ union leaders must form link between management and staff.
A leader as creative figure
A leader must be creative in leading people. Creativity involves skills on how to chair meetings in a productive way, how to solve problems meaningfully, how to interact with people of different calibers etc. Peter et al. (2011) as well as Peter and Marc (2015) insist the need for leaders to be creative in the rapid changing environment in Universities. Association/union leaders are not exempted from this move.
A leader must be informed
A leader must be on alert all the time to ensure that any useful information is known to him in order to avoid rumors and parochial conclusions in decision making. Employees always think that a leader is informed about everything going on in the organization. Apart from general information that employees would wish to hear from leaders, they sometimes ask even those information that fall under purely administrative docket. A good example is when the researcher was asked about when the salary will be released. It is believed that a leader’s voice is embedded with sort of power and authority hence must always be released carefully. The researcher remembered his second master during his ordinary level studies who used to insist that in quote “My Voice has authority to you”. People take leaders’ information in a very serious note, and they can quote it anywhere, where necessary. Information is power.
Good public relation person (Good rapport engineer)
A leader must be able to establish good relationship with many people of different types, and all levels as much as possible. This can happen only when a leader appreciates that each person has his or her role to play in the accomplishment of organization’s goals. The university employs workers of different academic qualifications and experiences. Being an academic member of staff should not mean that someone is everything. Office attendants, drivers, accountants, artisans, wardens, security guards etc are very important people to make the institution operate smoothly. According to many people, a leader is the one who can interact with all people regardless of their skills and experiences
A leader must be very keen in understanding people’s wants and look for means to solve them. During the researcher’s leadership, there were several problems facing members of the association. What the researcher did was to try to understand the nature of each problem, and establish appropriate way to solve it. One of the vivid examples he remember about this case is when he helped UDOM staff who were studying at various institutions outside UDOM within Tanzania to clear their loan requirements in their absentia.
A leader must be reliable in all his or her undertakings. This means that a leader’s stand should not fluctuate to avoid confusion to members or followers. Leaders must be predictable in their philosophy and ideologies to build trust among people.
A leader must be able to lead people in realizing their future. It involves informing people how to behave and act in manners that direct them to achieve a reasonable future. Basically, through the researcher’s leadership, he had experienced role as the one who articulates and put into action a vision for a future that inspires others to join in. One of the examples he remember is to insist on the importance of every staff to struggle and have his or her permanent place of residence. This was done by encouraging staff to borrow loans from banks and join SACCOS so that they increase their financial muscle not only by building a house but also performing other social and economic activities.
Transparent and authentic figures
Leaders must be true to themselves, and always open in their actions. There is common wise saying which states “charity begins at home” This saying can be used in different contexts to explain different meanings. In this context, it is used to insist that all leaders should be able to behave, and act in candid manner to reflect openness and trustworthy.
A leader as accountable fellow
A leader is the one who is ready to be answerable to all his actions whether positively or negatively. For objectivity purposes, the leader is required to systematize all his or her undertakings so that fair judgment can be reached whenever answerability is required.
Leaders should portray high level of commitment in serving their followers. Selflessness referred to here is when a leader can avoid serving own interests through his or her position. Selfless people are now days considered very rare species that is, they are there but rare. Some even believe that selfless leaders can only be obtained from God’s wishes, and not within the realms of human capacity.
Perception of association/unions’ by management
It is sad to know that, sometimes trade unions and staff associations are considered by authorities as trouble makers, and more wage dispute oriented than helping the institutions to accomplish their functions. From the researcher’s experiences as a retired UDOMASA chairperson, he is convinced beyond doubt that, staff associations and trade unions are the important vehicles in organizations that can facilitate presence of peace and tranquility. It is therefore fair to pose a challenge to all University community and specifically the University authorities at all levels to change their perceptions towards the role of trade unions and staff associations. Instead of pointing the finger at one another and shifting blames to others for bad outcomes, the whole university community should join efforts together towards fulfillment of the desired objectives.
Comforts moments of leadership
There is a general perception that leaders are enjoying lots of benefits accruing from their positions especially financial resources. The researcher feels like explaining some of the benefits he found more important and proud to talk about during his leadership tenure. These benefits are the ones he consider to be comfort moments when in leadership.
Becoming a leader is an opportunity for one to get exposure to new skills and experiences from different people and situations. UDOMASA leadership has enabled the researcher to become aware of so many things which he would not be able to know. He has expanded his horizon of how to address staff affairs at different situations and circumstances in a more successful manner.
Leadership has enabled the researcher to come across with many people of different positions and caliber. It is through UDOMASA leadership where he became chairperson of Academic Staff Associations of Public Universities and University Colleges (ASAs) in Tanzania. He also attended several meetings at the Ministries responsible for higher learning institutions such as Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Ministry of Finance and President’s Office Public Management and Civil Service. In all these meetings, it was easier to come into contact with people of different positions and experiences.
The researcher feel like someone who gained more confidence through leadership due to the fact that he is more informed than before being a leader. Since he attended several meetings within and outside the University, he was able to build confidence on how to handle staff and other affairs. The researcher also feels a person who is more mature psychologically and emotionally than before.
Challenging and tricky (upset) moments in my leadership tenure
Some of the moments in the researcher’s leadership undertakings were very rough, challenging and tricky. These were the moments he can call “all eyes on me” implying that, all people including UDOMASA members, University Management, the Government and the Public at large were keen to see his stand at those desperate times. The following are some of the situations which explain tricky moments during his leadership.
Presiding over controversial meetings
One of the challenging and tricky moments are the days when Academic Staff members were very upset to the extent that they wanted nothing but industrial action to express their discontents. One of the most notable instances he remembered among many is the joint meeting between the Vice Chancellor together with his team and all academic members of staff in Chimwaga Complex Hall on November, 12th 2014.
Academic members of staff raised a number of issues they were unhappy with the way they are addressed. It was a challenging moment to the researcher since all academic members of staff were determined to undertake industrial action in the presence of VC. He remembered during that time, General Assembly of the ruling party CCM was in Dodoma conducting its elections. This means that the whole government clique was in Dodoma and they knew very well what was happening in their former Chimwaga Complex.
The meeting was very hot and that it lasted for two days consecutively from morning to very late hours in evening. The researcher had to be very firm but fair to all parties present in that meeting. He did not allow any person or group to victimize the other, mislead the intention of the meeting and any other unbecoming act which could have ruined the smooth running of the meeting. Being fair but firm as a chairperson of the meeting, the discussion went very well and lastly common understanding was reached. It enabled the members of academic staff to realize and change their intention to wage industrial action and allow dialogue to take its due course in addressing all challenges identified. It is therefore a great pleasure to the researcher that he was able to settle down the situation amicably. There are other instances of this nature and many more that happened in subsequent time but handled in a calmer manner. Through these events, he learnt that leaders should take into considerations the following key issues during tough moments;
1. To be very fair but bold enough in reaching conclusion to avoid being swayed
2. Allow enough time for discussions and deliberation of issues
3. Tolerate people to provide solutions of their own to controversial issues
4. When people trust a leader, nothing can go wrong
5. Dialogue is an opportunity to let people meet and discuss matters of concerns.
6. If the boss of the institution has good will and passion towards affairs of staff, it is very easy to reach consensus and compromise in respective organizations.
Internal faction politics
UDOMASA being an interest group that influence policy making in its favour, is not isolated from natural outgrowth of internal power blocs that is, groups within UDOMASA itself to advance their interests. It is a common phenomenon that, in all social groups, a special interest group is likely to band together as a way of achieving their goals and advancing their agenda and position within an organization. This situation will form what is known as internal politics within itself that is, within the group itself.
According to the experience of researcher, UDOMASA internal politics was not very intense since the group is still growing in number and experiences. Some people might think that politics is something related to political parties and national politics only. To make clear this notion, politics is any ideological activity, strategy or means performed by any person of any level regardless of his or her status to gain certain advantage. Personally as stated earlier, he did not experience strong internal politics due to a simple stated reason that the group is not yet mature enough to experience interest groups.
During his leadership tenure, the main focus was to establish the identity of the association through building stable systems and networks within and outside to make it live longer. The researcher is however confident that, internal politics could not have scared him since he is well-versed with organizational political techniques and strategies popularly known as micro politics commonly applicable in institutions.
Few cases of internal faction politics
The researcher think it is unfair if he do not mention few cases where power blocs were featured in his leadership tenure. As he explained in the previous paragraph, politics is part and parcel of life of any social groups since some people would wish to see their interests being honoured all the time. If they do not see their interests being realized, they resort to political propaganda as a means of consoling themselves. Since some people were not always happy with the style of his leadership, they lastly engaged in the game of politicking. Some of the blames (micro politics) he remembers waged against him are:
1. Allegation that at some points in time, he abandoned members of academic staff who were terminated from employment.
2. Allegations that, he was not ready to delegate power for example allowing someone to attend meetings (Council) on his behalf.
3. Claims that it reached a point he was no longer strong as compared to the beginning just because he was against industrial actions.
4. Blames that he established a good rapport with the University Management something which according to them would have threatened his stand point;
5. A claim that he always defend members of academic
staff alleged to commit mistakes; and
6. Questioning the possibility of surviving in chairmanship position without being victimized by authorities for two terms consecutively.
Techniques to handle groups
These few cases earlier mentioned and many more of this nature was the centre of political propaganda during his leadership tenure. The point to emphasize here is that this propaganda is bound to happen in any social group. This must be very clear to anybody entrusted with position. Some people were also questioning how he managed to persist without victimization by authorities. Personally, he was able to survive throughout his tenure despite internal power blocs. The main strategies he applied to counteract and contain propaganda and grievances included, among others, the following;
1. Conducting UDOMASA general meetings as per almanac to give people a chance to air out their views and release tension. UDOMASA constitution requires that general meetings be conducted once every three months. It was properly implemented.
2. Avoid giving ambiguous statements – he tried as much as possible to explain himself to keep away from vague statements which could disturb attention of members. It reminds him of the moments he always urged academic members of staff to be objective in whatever they do.
3. Communication using UDOMASA mail group – We created UDOMASA Google group mail to simplify sharing information among members. All sensitive information was circulated to members hence keep members informed all the time
4. Active participation in social affairs – Social events especially funeral and the like are very fundamental in uniting people. He participated fully in these events and therefore maintained trust among the people.
5. Enthusiastic representation of the members in governance organs of the University that is, council meetings – he was very firm to represent his fellow members in all council meetings and shared information to members promptly.
6. Stick to procedures – he had to stick to procedures guiding the association especially the constitution to avoid being misled
7. Participatory decision making – All decisions about the association were exhaustively discussed and solutions found by Executive Committee. The members of Ex-com are drawn from all schools and therefore they were ambassadors to what have been deliberated.
8. Understanding expectations of members and prepare answers in advance
9. Detaching from misconducts of any kind to avoid creating a loophole of facing disciplinary or criminal actions.
10. Informal talks, meetings and consultations – Informal consultations were very fundamental in calming situations. Some members were more comfortable to give out their views informally and not publicly. Their good views were taken on board
11. Being alert to information – Being proactive and alert to sensitive information is an important way of managing internal politics and surviving in positions
12. Resorting to soft war that is, non violent strategies such as identifying needs and addressing them by writing. These soft wars are very effective and usually end with less or no injuries
13. Being fair to everybody to avoid biases – This helps to show people that what you are dealing with are not personal interests but the affairs and needs of the general population.
14. Reading and understanding labour laws – It helped to avoid being trapped as well as in advising fellow staff to abide by stipulated rules and regulations
15. Expanding networks and alliances with THTU and ASAs – Walking alone in leadership is sometimes dangerous. Knowing this, he attached myself to trade union and academic staff associations in Tanzania to join efforts towards set goals.
The results presented bring to attention three important things to discuss. The first one is that, leadership qualities for staff association/unions are almost the same with the commonly known general qualities of leadership. However, qualities attached to staff/unions leadership are treated in serious attention by members. The reason is just simple that, association/union leadership is more of personal sacrifice unlike organizational leadership guided by laws and regulations.
Association/union leadership’s main instrument is power to influence through personal attributes (charisma) and not laws. This does not mean laws are useless but not the main guide to this category of leadership. The second important thing is the fact that comfort moments experienced by association/union leaders are different from those expected by the members. While leaders experience non-monetary benefits accruing from their position, members believe that leaders receive a lot of money for the virtue of being leadership. This is a contraction which sometimes may lead to misunderstanding between the leaders and followers. The third thing is about upset moments whereby leaders need to be aware of the fact that these moments are inevitable in leadership. What matters to leaders is to be versed with all requirements of the group and address them accordingly.
Following the discussion therefore, there should be deliberate attempts to create awareness to all members of staff about how the University operates. This attempt includes making them understand the university structure, governance organs of the university, university leadership, distribution of responsibilities, and many more of the like. By doing so, members of staff will be able to perform their duties in a more comfortable and successful manner. Joint efforts should be directed to the following key areas
Creating awareness to members of staff
A new staff orientation is necessary for both academic and non academic staff. For academic staff, a course on pedagogy and university culture especially for staff coming from teaching non schools or autocratic organizations.
Without proper organizational communication, it will be very difficult to achieve the intended objectives. Communication is an important requirement just like the way blood is important to human beings. The researcher would like to recall all members of staff and the university community at large that the Tower of Babel was not complete because of breakdown of communication after confusion of languages. We should not fall into this trap but always remember that communication is lifeblood of the organization.
Ensure accountability and transparency
Openness and answerability should be the main pillars to guide all organization members in fulfilling their responsibilities. All organization undertakings and duties performed should be done openly and in a participatory manner to avoid suspicions among members.
Seminars and workshops on labour and public service laws and regulations
Seminars and workshops should be conducted from time to time on different laws and regulations to make members of the organization conversant with those legal basics. The researcher do believe that, when members of staff are aware about public as well as labour laws, suspicion and unnecessary pointing the finger at one another will be minimized.
The university management has already consented joint meetings between UDOMASA leaders and university authorities to be scheduled on monthly basis purposely to discuss and resolve concerns of staff. It is good news to all of us that these meetings have been taking place and in fact solutions to some issues were found. These meetings are important forums to discuss non-policy related matters.