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Leadership of state-owned enterprises in a volatile environment: a case study of Eskom.

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To lead a complex SoE like Eskom with its myriad of challenges during a volatile environment, like the Covid-19 pandemic, calls for a very different leadership approach. Research focusing on leading in volatile environments is limited, with no specific studies focusing on SoEs in South Africa. This gap gave impetus to this study to explore the leadership of state-owned enterprises, namely Eskom in a volatile environment. The study adopted an exploratory research design guided by the interpretivist and post-positivist paradigms. Based on the mix-method approach, using random sampling, the study targeted 183 employees, 183 senior managers and 7 executive members out of a total population size of 7526. A total of 113 participants at Eskom responded to the online survey. The study explored if the leadership qualities perceived to be important by Eskom leaders aligned with the leadership qualities required for a VUCA environment and assessed if the leaders possessed the required leadership traits to succeed in this environment. Also, Eskom leaders described how they had changed their leadership approach during the pandemic. The study found that Eskom leaders possessed traits relevant for leading in a volatile environment; however, they lacked key strategic, problem-solving, emergence and innovation/creativity traits. The leadership qualities identified by Eskom leaders aligned to the qualities for a volatile environment; however, the five qualities that managers perceived as most important, namely: honesty, integrity and trustworthiness; being able to set a clear vision and direction; being able to embrace diversity and change; being able to think clearly under pressure and communicate effectively and being able to think conceptually, holistically and strategically, do not align fully to the leadership qualities found to be successful in leading through the pandemic. Leaders at Eskom changed their leadership approach to be more empathetic, supportive, understanding, trusting, agile, flexible and adaptable. Based on the findings, a feasible leadership framework and process was developed. The recommendations proposed, namely the creation of creativity brainstorming pods, the application of LEAN tools, creating an enhanced managerial development programme, and creating a knowledge information system, to help support the implementation and effectiveness of the proposed framework and process.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.