Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Tshepang Masala shadowed University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng for a day as part of the CEOx1Day programme. The programme pairs business school students with some of the country’s leading CEOs.
The CEOx1Day programme provides MBA students, who are recognised as having outstanding leadership potential, with an opportunity to spend a day in the shoes of a senior executive.
Masala, currently enrolled in an MBA at the University of Pretoria Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), explained that the competition subjected entrants to a thorough and rigorous selection process, which included personal interviews.
He was notified in September 2020 that he was one of the winners but the COVID-19 pandemic and associated safety protocols paused the momentum of the initiative and it was only this year that Masala was notified that he would be placed in the VC’s office to shadow her for a day.
A busy working day
Masala was thrilled that he was paired with the VC.
“I was already excited to win but when I found out that I was to be paired with Professor Phakeng – that was incredible. It’s just exciting to be at the top university in Africa and to see operationally how it is and witness her leadership style, which is very open, affable, charismatic and very connected to people,” he said.
“It’s amazing to get to see it live. Job-shadowing the vice-chancellor has given me a deeper appreciation of the complexity of decisions being made.”
“It’s amazing to get to see it live. Job-shadowing the vice-chancellor has given me a deeper appreciation of the complexity of decisions being made. She has to factor in faculty and students, among many others, and balance all these interests towards Vision 2030 that the university has and how to chart your way towards that.”
Masala began the working day at 07:00 and he anticipated that it would only wrap up at 19:00.
“It’s been jampacked!” he quipped.
A key learning experience
He describes the opportunity to spend a working day with the VC as an invaluable learning experience.
“It gave me the opportunity to see behind the curtain, so to speak, and to see how decisions are [being] made. A university has a different dynamic. It requires more consensus building because of the number of stakeholders involved and it has more governance and accountability structure [as opposed to] a company. It’s more diverse in input.”
Furthermore, Masala explained that a key takeaway from the experience was “authenticity”.
“It is inspiring because you don’t have to be that cold, detached person to be in leadership as we sometimes expect; you can shape it to what you want it to be.”
“She is very authentic as to who she is and how she engages with students. A lot of universities have a different approach where the VC is very distant. When we walked on campus, so many students stopped her to take selfies … with her and that, to me, signaled a deeper connection. It is inspiring because you don’t have to be that cold, detached person to be in leadership as we sometimes expect; you can shape it to what you want it to be.”
Phakeng shared her thoughts about the job-shadowing experience: “I think this is a great idea and I wish our final-year students could have this kind of opportunity. As we continued through the day, I kept thinking that he is getting the richest day. He is getting into the side of my job that even the students here don’t have access to.”
The VC also shared some advice for future leaders: “My advice is: be you. Executive leadership is not easy but lead authentically and with integrity. Focus on serving and problem solving.”
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