By offering a range of services to students with disabilities, the Disability Unit at Stellenbosch University (SU) creates an enabling environment for students to achieve their full potential. For the past 15½ years, Dr Marcia Lyner-Cleophas has headed up the Unit, whose work cuts across the University's faculties and professional administrative support service (PASS) environments.
As part of SU's Women's Month celebrations, Marcia tells us more about her role and the leadership qualities it requires.
Tell us more about your role at Stellenbosch University.
I am the head of the Disability Unit. Ultimately, this means that I manage 12 staff members, including interns and assistants, who mainly support students with disabilities. Working with this competent team, I also liaise with other environments on campus about how to foster better disability inclusion in their work, teaching and learning spaces. This ranges from facilities management, transport services and residence support, to admissions, faculty academic support, South African Sign Language support and dealing with enquiries from prospective students and parents about their options at SU. In addition, I address challenging situations brought to our attention by staff and students, and I have to do troubleshooting to ensure that the Unit runs smoothly. Finally, staff development and having a happy-enough team is crucial to my role and my values. This I manage on a daily basis, always striving for excellence, compassion, accountability, respect and equity.
What do you enjoy most about this role?
I most enjoy seeing students receive the support they need in our departments and faculties, and seeing them complete their studies successfully because of that support. Additionally, supporting staff to grow professionally and as people, no matter their role, from our cleaners to the professional, admin and academic staff, is important to me.
What do you think are the key leadership qualities required to fulfil your role?
Trusting in the abilities of the staff you have appointed, and remaining open and flexible to their further growth in the work environment and beyond. We are quick to say that people can be whatever they want to be, but do we actually enable it? As leaders, we dare not stunt that growth in our teams. We can co-create their futures. Staff should develop both for their existing roles and the road ahead, and we should never put a 'lid' on that development.
Leadership roles are demanding. What keeps you motivated?
I am energised when I see staff grow both as individuals and teams. It is inspiring to see how the group adds value to themselves and to those they support. Problem-solving together makes for better leadership, as the group really carries the group. This type of energy and synergy keeps me motivated and positive.
What would your message be to the next generation of aspiring female leaders?
Trust your gut and take your chances, as you will never know whether or not something was meant for you if you do not give it a go. Life is there for you to try. Fears are sometimes reasonable, but can also be unreasonable and self-limiting. Speak to other leaders and develop your own views because you are unique and can carve your own way forward. Gaps, challenges, failures and shortcomings are all there to lead us to growth, to build our character and to show our humanity. This is how we become leaders in our personal lives and in the organisations where we study, work, live and worship.