Increasing Legitimacy

When those in authority in an organisation have legitimacy it is because they have successfully mobilised the consent of the majority of those they lead to being led by them. Their people trust them, are willing and loyal to them.

This does not happen overnight or by chance. Increasing legitimacy is a gradual process requiring courage and perseverance. It comes about when senior leaders commit to fundamental changes in their organisation in terms of who is there to serve whom, where leadership responsibilities are vested in the hierarchy, what is aspired to, and what leaders are measured on and rewarded for.

Who is here to serve whom?

In the first instance, legitimacy requires an essential inversion in the line of service from ‘you are here for me’ to ‘I am here for you’. The practical manifestation of this is evidenced in three ways:

  • The most important people in the organisation are not those at the top of the hierarchy but those at the bottom – those in the front line who serve the customer directly. In the armed forces the sailor/the soldier/the pilot are prime. In other sectors the operator, business analyst, or the waiter are paramount. Everyone else has a vital role to play, which is to get behind those in the front line and provide them with whatever they need to delight the customer.
  • Managers are there to serve their people, not the other way round. The direction of service is down, not up, the line. A newly-appointed operations director in the fashion retail industry got instant kudos when he deleted 30 slides on next year’s targets and replaced them with a single slide, ‘Everyone has a contribution to make, how can I help you make yours?’
  • Support functions, be they engineering, marketing, IT, finance or HR, demonstrate what is true – which is that they only exist because of the core functions they are here to support. As ancillary functions they enable rather than control. They are neither burdensome nor over-demanding of the line and hence are seen to be value adding, vital to the success of the enterprise.

Where is the leadership responsibility vested?

Secondly, legitimacy requires everyone in the line of command to pay the price of power. The price of power is not money, it is care and growth. The board needs to care and grow the CEO, who in turn cares and grows the executive team – all the way down to the first line manager responsible for the care and growth of those performing the tasks which produce sustainable bottom-line results.

More specifically, what is required is:

  • That at every level managers are empowered to perform their care and growth role. They are given both the means and the ability to do so. This is particularly the case with first-line managers who often fail to make the transition from team member to team leader – not because they don’t want to don the mantle of leadership but because they are not equipped to do so.
  • That care and growth accountabilities are made absolutely explicit. Everyone in the position of authority knows who they are accountable for caring and growing. Equally every individual knows who they can expect care and growth from – whether solely from their immediate manager or, in 24/7 or matrix organisations, from those who share the accountability for their care and growth.
  • The line of command is respected. Managers higher up in the hierarchy resist giving regular audience and instruction to those who report into their direct reports. Similarly they do not do the care and growth job on behalf of the managers who report to them. This would not only be disempowering but would literally rob their direct reports of the only means (care and growth) by which they can gain legitimacy.

What is aspired to?

Thirdly, legitimacy requires leaders to aspire to cultivate exceptional people rather than produce excellent results. It means making the primary goal realising the best in people from an ability and willingness point of view. This happens when:

  • Instead of people being used as the means to get the job done, the job/results provide the opportunity to grow people.
  • Rather than tolerating mediocrity there is an insistence on excellence, on people being the best that they can be.
  • There are ongoing and persistent endeavours to reduce the number of poor contributors and increase the number of exceptional contributors in the organisation.
  • Leaders over time cultivate an organisation of mature souls – people who are here to give rather than here to take.

What leaders are measured on and rewarded for?

Finally, legitimacy requires a change in what those in positions of authority are measured on and rewarded for: not for the success of the business or their own success, but for the success of their people. Leaders in essence are held accountable for impacting positively on their teams’ DNA by consistently doing the following:

  • Taking every opportunity to improve the quality of the people joining their team(s).
  • Removing from their team(s) those who do not deserve a place in the team(s).
  • Progressing each individual member both in terms of their task and personal maturity.

Any one of these for organisational changes increases legitimacy. When all four are in evidence the majority of employees except those in authority, trust them and are prepared to go above and beyond in pursuit of the organisation’s objectives.

August 2023 – Question Of The Month

Question: How should a leader react when an employee has a personal crisis?

Answer:  Putting one’s employees first is never more evident than during times of personal crisis for the employee. These occasions inevitably arise because people are human and difficult circumstances (death, divorce, illness) do at some point arise. When they do, the leader’s response either cements or breaks the bond between the leader and their people.

I have two examples which illustrate the case, one positive and the other negative.

I found myself in hospital once with a young person who was going through brain surgery for two tumours in her brain. She was the manager of a car rental agency and she told me, with humility, that she regularly received offers at twice her current pay. The reason that she was never tempted however was because of her boss who, at this moment, entered the ward. “Where else could I find this?” she said. “He is not only doing my job and his for as long as I am incapacitated, but he comes to visit me at least twice a week, even though he lives on the other side of town.”

A young man was washed off a pier on a Sunday afternoon while fishing with his mates. He plummeted down to the rocks below, miraculously did not die, but as a result of his injuries spent many weeks in hospital. He confronted his boss upon his return to his work: “Why, in all those weeks, did you not come and see me?” His boss’s response – that he asked after him at least three times a week – simply did not hold water. The bottom line was that the relationship was over. There was nothing the boss could do to recover from this. His only hope was to behave very differently when personal issues impacted on the lives of other people in his team.

I once spoke to a woman in a retail branch in a bank. She had the following to say. Firstly, that she had had a horrendous year from a personal point of view (she did not give details). “Throughout the year,” she said, “my manager was there for me … now there is nothing that, if my manager (not the bank) asked of me, I would not do it.”

People give their all at the end of the day for someone (who truly cares about them), not some organisational entity or thing.

Simon Sinek sums it up when he says that people follow leaders who have chosen to look after them. This is what a leader is.

Leading Remotely? Stay Connected By Being Sincere, Deliberate And Courageous

“How do I stay connected to my people when they’re working remotely?”

“How can I show people that I care without seeming like I’m prying?”

These are questions that have been raised repeatedly by managers grappling with remote leadership for the first time. The answer to neither question is simple – relationships are, after all, complex by their nature. But the following points are worth bearing in mind as we work to build and maintain our own relationships with our direct reports remotely:

  1. It’s not only possible to maintain relationships at a distance but many people have, in fact, reported improving their relationships while their teams have been working remotely.

For many managers remote working has highlighted the transactional nature of the relationships they have with their people. It is entirely possible to work next to, or even with, somebody every day for years without ever really getting to know him or developing a genuine concern for his welfare. When these managers are asked for insight into how their people are doing, they simply don’t know. When it is suggested that they set up time one-on-one with their people, they ask, “What do you want us to talk about?” Well, find out how the other person is doing. Not just how she is getting on with her work, but how the human being behind the human resource is doing. Let her know how you are doing. Sincere relationships go both ways.

Developing a genuine concern for somebody and looking for ways to be helpful requires that you open the door to personal conversations. You can’t force people to walk through the door but showing them that the door is open is a fundamental part of your leadership job. As is listening in a way that allows you to understand and empathise with people’s often-complex personal situations. Whether the conversation happens in person, over the phone, or on a video call is less important than the reason for the conversation in the first place: genuine interest, care, and an intent to be helpful.

2. Excellent leaders make time for their people and give attention to what concerns them.

Finding out how someone is doing, what is really on her mind, is not the same as checking in at the start of a meeting. It’s also not the same as checking in at the start of the day in the daily team check-in, or a surprise 5-minute call to find out how things are going. Whilst also important and valuable, none of the above represents a good opportunity for a person to share with her manager that she is thinking of emigrating to Australia, or is really concerned about whether her career is on track, or struggling to pay for her child’s school fees. These things require considered preparation and a time in the diary when neither party is distracted or busy with something else. Giving your people the opportunity to connect with you in a meaningful way by deliberately and proactively scheduling time with them is key to enabling sincere, open and honest conversations. Working with someone on the latest deal or asking them for feedback on a client presentation is not enough.

3. Building a robust and sincere connection, even remotely, requires tough love.

One of the problems with remote leadership is that “difficult conversations” are perceived to be even more difficult when they are not face-to-face. This is especially true if we are concerned about how the other person is reacting and what he might be thinking of us while we are telling him something that we know he does not want to hear. But cultivating independence in your people is even more critical than ever when you are expecting them to take accountability for themselves and their performances. Have the courage to tell your people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear, be aware of the difference between being supportive (helping someone to solve their problems) and disabling (solving their problems for them and allowing them to remain in a victim state). And don’t put today’s conversations off because the technology’s not perfect – tomorrow may be too late.

February 2021 – Question of the Month

Question of the Month: What should a Legitimate Leadership intervention deliver?

Answer: Our standard answer is that it should deliver an organization characterised by legitimacy, trust, contribution and accountability – all of which then impacts on the results.

However here are two more developed characterisations:

That those in leadership roles will be able to answer ‘yes’ to the following:

  • Should the leader move on would his/her direct reports like (which doesn’t mean they will in fact) to go with him/her because of the benefits in terms of care and growth that they have experienced in their reporting relationship with him/her?
  • Should the person move on, is there is a successor from within (or as someone expressed it when they were promoted into their ex-manager’s role ‘he made me’).

That those in the frontline of the business will be able to answer ‘yes’ to the following:

  • They are able to articulate what they are willing and able to deliver which is of value-add and for which they would like to be held accountable.
  • They are asking their manager to come and view what they have delivered because they are proud of the quality of their work.

Why Legitimate Leadership Comes From South Africa

The Legitimate Leadership Model, in essence, strives to increase trust between management and non-management in all kinds of organisations; it strives to decrease the fraction of the workforce which is disaffected and disengaged, and increase the fraction which is pro-establishment.

It is no coincidence that South Africa has been, and still is, a country where there is considerable research on disaffection and disengagement in the workforce. The latest World Economic Forum report on country competitiveness for 2016-2017, for instance, ranks South Africa as having the worst labour-employee relations in the world (137 out of 137 countries surveyed).

Arising from its long history of conquest, colonialism, industrialisation and apartheid, it is probably not surprising that South Africa is a leader in labour disaffection and disengagement.

The Legitimate Leadership Model originated from seminal research into trust in management in the South African gold mines in the late 1980s, during the apartheid era. However, contrary to expectation then, trust in management was not consistently low, but varied immensely, both across mines and even in different shafts on the same mine.

Surprisingly, trust in management was not found to be a function of the political environment, working/living conditions, rates of pay, trade union activity, or the sophistication of the company’s human resources policies and systems. Rather, trust in management was granted or withheld on the basis of employees’ perception of their leadership’s genuine concern for their welfare.

The leadership of a mine was seen to be legitimate and worthy, or not, of support on this basis only.

In extrapolating these research results, it was concluded that whether the management of any enterprise is trusted and viewed as legitimate, therefore, is ultimately a function of the intent of the immediate supervisor at any level in the hierarchy.

The findings of this original research in the South African gold mining industry were developed into what is now the Legitimate Leadership Model.

Over the past 25 years the precepts of the Legitimate Leadership Model have been confirmed in diverse organisations across the world.

Coming back to 2018 … the WEF report is based on the perceptions of business executives in the countries surveyed. The executives were asked to characterise labour-employer relations in their countries as “generally confrontational” or “generally cooperative”.

Commenting on South Africa’s bottom position in the labour survey, South African industrial relations specialist Andrew Levy said employers have been depending on “bad advice” on how to tackle workplace challenges. He agreed that union rivalry contributed to poor employer-employee relations and said that management was also failing in its role.

“Our union movement is the most militant and difficult in the world at the moment,” he said. “Many unions were built on their role in the struggle (against apartheid) and saw bosses as the enemy and oppressors. We have not worked beyond that.”

According to Gawie Cillié, employment relations expert and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa’s bottom position in the labour survey is directly linked to the low levels of trust between employers and employees. This, coupled with poor reliance on professional management, the country’s capacity to retain and attract talent, as well as high unemployment and poverty levels, had all contributed to a negative labour-employer relationship, he said.

“There are many reasons for high levels of conflict in our labour-employer relationship, but by far the low levels of trust underpin the reality we are facing,” he said. “If there is little or no trust, cooperation suffers and the conflict escalates, quickly resulting in severe damage in the relationship, costing money and employee efficiency.

“The lower the levels of trust are, the greater the need to rely on formal rules to keep employees productive and compliant.

“On the other hand, if trust is high, reliance on the rules becomes less necessary. Employees tend to be more self-motivated, conflicts tend to be resolved quickly and equitably, and formal rules (for instance relating to poor work performance or ill-discipline) only have to be applied as a last resort,” he said.

COMMENT BY WENDY LAMBOURNE: In any relationship the core issue is trust between the parties. This was true in the South African gold mining industry in the late 1980s when seminal research into trust in management on South African mines was carried out under the auspices of the Chamber of Mines. 30 years later, trust remains the core issue in South Africa’s mines, in South African organisations, and in organisations across the world. The Legitimate Leadership framework, principles and practices, applied in in diverse organisations across the world, have been shown to deliver significant improvements in trust in management as well as greater legitimacy of those in command roles, and increased employee willingness and accountability. In essence, it has been proven that trust is a function of the immediate manager’s commitment to his/her people in terms of care and growth. The degree to which managers deliver on their people’s expectations for care and growth directly impacts on the ratio of disaffected and disengaged to pro-establishment and willing workers.

What Should Leaders Do About Targets And Standards In A Crisis?

Leaders can choose to make targets or make standards what they focus on and prioritise in a crisis. They can also elect to change (raise or lower) the targets and/or standards, or leave them unchanged. The choices they make are important because they have a significant bearing on whether those they lead thrive or not in difficult times.

Leaders should focus on standards, not targets, in a crisis. They should raise standards, not targets, in difficult times.


Making achieving targets the priority in a crisis has its benefits. This is because clear targets provide focus and, when they are stretching but achievable, they inspire people to achieve them. But whether the target is achieved or not, is not within people’s control. All outcomes are in part at least, and sometimes almost entirely, affected by extraneous factors.

So when leaders focus their people on what they cannot control they disempower, not empower them. They engender in their people a fear of failure which reduces their effectiveness in the crisis, since part of their energy is trapped in the jaws of fear.

Standards, on the other hand, are absolutely within leaders’ control. This is because it is leaders who set and enforce standards. And the standards that leaders expect, demonstrate and walk past are the standards they get.

Standards moreover are enablers of human excellence in that they describe the best that people are capable of both in terms of behaviour and performance. When standards are upheld by leaders in a crisis they serve to bring out the best in their people. When standards are pitched high they propel people towards excellence. And when people are exceptional rather than mediocre, they are far more likely to achieve the desired results.

This is not to suggest that goals and targets should cease to exist in a crisis. But they should not be either the focus of attention or the priority. Rather leaders should focus each and every person in their charge on excellence in the task in front of them. They should then focus on enabling excellence in their people. Now everyone is focused on what they have control over.


In a debate on what to do in a motor retail environment when new-car sales were shrinking year-on-year by 6%, a CEO had an epiphany moment. “Because we are feeling sorry for our sales people in these trading conditions, we are being soft on the standards. In fact we should be doing the opposite.”

What he was proposing was the following.

Firstly, that the sales targets should be reviewed and adjusted down in the face of the new reality. The purse had shrunk and it was a lunacy to expect the outcome initially envisaged. The targets needed to be adjusted down to reflect the actuality of the situation. Leaving them unchanged would be seriously demoralizing.

Secondly, and at the same time, standards regarding excellence in the sales process needed to be raised.

Leaders should insist on higher standards, enable their people to meet them, and hold them accountable for doing so. Ironically, by raising the standards not the targets, leaders increase the likelihood of the targets being met.

In both good and bad times, ambition is needed. But there is good and bad ambition. Good ambition is about being the best that one can be, about striving to improve oneself. Bad ambition, on the other hand, is about seeking to get ahead, to win and be better than the competition. This is true in any context.

Right ambition for an athlete means focusing on playing a better game, not on winning the league.  For medical professionals it is about a commitment to producing exceptional medical care rather than being distracted by medical statistics. For soldiers it is about giving their all to the fight, whether they end up in victory or defeat. For employees it means excelling in the role, including a leadership role.

The higher the standards and the more people subordinate themselves to meeting those standards the more successful they are likely to be, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Passing The Intent Test Is An Everyday Opportunity

In our introductory programmes one of the issues we work through is the idea of the Intent test.  Legitimate Leadership argues that the only real measure we have of whether we can trust someone is whether they are able to suspend their agenda for ours; whether they are able to set aside their self-interest, and act instead in ours.  It is on this basis alone that trust is granted or withheld and, in the leadership relationship, the manager is seen to be worthy of support, or not.

So what does it mean to pass the intent test?  Consider the following situations:

  • A lead has arisen that could lead to an important sale for your business.  You have two sales people you can assign the work to.  Jill is your top sales performer and realistically has the best chance of securing the deal.  Andrew is a good sales performer, and giving this deal to him will stretch his ability and he will have gained some much needed experience in pursuing the opportunity.  His prospects of success are not as good as Jill’s.  Who do you give the opportunity to?
  • You are in your office, and Lindiwe comes in to ask for help on an important piece of work.  You are listening to her problem when your phone, which is lying on the desk, beeps.  It is a WhatsApp from your boss. You are waiting on a reply to a request you’d sent him earlier in the day.  Do you read the message or carry on the conversation with Lindiwe?
  • Your boss calls you in a rage.  She has just seen one of your subordinates arriving at work an hour late, and demands that you discipline her for late coming. Poor punctuality is a pet hate of your boss, and something she is very intolerant of.  Further, your boss as a reputation for being inflexible once she has made a decision – she does not change her mind easily.  You don’t yet know why the subordinate was late.  How do you respond?
  • It is 8:30 in the morning, and you have a critical meeting starting in 30 minutes, at which you have to give a presentation on the quarterly results.  You spent many hours on the presentation, and somehow lost the work.  You’ve been at the office since 6am reconstructing what you lost, and are almost done, save for some of the finishing touches.  You have completely forgotten that you agreed to a brief discussion regarding some personal difficulty your staff member has been having, and he wants to give you an update. He has arrived at your office on time. What do you say to him?

These are 4 simple examples of countless interactions that happen between a leader and his/her staff every week, and every one of them is a test.  It would be understandable if you gave the deal to Jill, read the message from your boss, disciplined your subordinate because “the boss said I must”, and told your staff member “now is not a good time”.  In each case, giving in to self-interest at the expense of the other means failing the intent test, and acting contrary to the value required in each situation.

Can we suspend self-interest every time? Admittedly, it is very difficult to do so.  The granting and withholding of trust is an incremental process, and in each small interaction a little trust is either granted or withheld when we pass or fail.

Our subordinates perceive the pattern – does the boss strive to put my interests first, or is the boss mostly concerned with his/her own interests. The leader who over time works to look after the interests of others builds trust.  This leader does not necessarily pass the test every time, but demonstrates to his or her people that his motive is firmly to strive to do so.

Significant tests of intent most often take place in the face of significant life events like death, divorce, illness, marriage, the birth of a child. These however do not come along very often.  Each interaction we have with the people around us is an opportunity to either build trust or erode trust.

Making the conscious choice to give rather than take by putting the interests of others first results in more decisions in the interests of others than oneself.

Ability and Accountability and the Hard and Soft Mistakes

A central precept of Legitimate Leadership is that a leader gains the trust of his subordinates by the provision of care and growth. Care and growth is actualised by the leader giving people the means and ability to do the job and then holding them appropriately accountable for performance. Once this is consistently demonstrated over a period of time, the leadership of the manager becomes legitimate.

Ability is provided by structured feedback, coaching and training, both on and off the job. Accountability happens when managers provide consequence for performance: reward for exceptional performance, recognition of consistent performance on or above standard; censure for performance which is below standard and discipline for misconduct and repeated carelessness. Reward and recognition constitute positive accountability whereas censure and discipline constitute negative accountability. The above is always applied relative to a clear standard.

The hard and soft mistakes typically occur in the application of negative accountability.

The hard mistake occurs when the manager applies negative accountability under circumstances where adequate means and ability have not been put in place. The soft mistake is committed where means and ability are in fact in place but the manager fails to hold the subordinate accountable for under performance, carelessness or misconduct.

The soft mistake may take the form of taking no action or in mistakenly attributing the negative exception to means or ability (most often the latter).

In the context of two clients in South Africa with which we have engaged over the last year both the hard and soft mistakes were widely prevalent, at least at the start of the interventions.

In many respects the two clients could not be more different. One is in the motor industry whereas the other is in the chemical manufacturing sector. Initially the client in the motor industry was inclined towards the hard mistake. Here people were often “thrown in the deep end” and then dismissed after three months for mistakes or for missing targets. Ironically, the soft mistake was also not uncommon in this organisation. Typically this took the form of condoning misconduct due to the perpetrator being a “star performer” or in some way being regarded as indispensable.

Clearly both the hard and soft mistakes undermined trust in management.

Committing the hard mistake was almost unknown within the chemical manufacturing business. In fact, the application of negative accountability was conspicuous by its absence despite performance which was on the whole below standard. This had the effect of both encouraging mediocrity and undermining managerial credibility.

What both organisations had in common at the onset of our interventions was that training and development was perceived as very inadequate. In other words the ability component of legitimate leadership was seen to be severely wanting. This was apparent from leadership surveys in the motor industry and by extensive multi-level interviews at the chemical manufacturer.

In both cases this concern about inadequate training proved to be only partly valid.

In the case of the motor industry there were in fact numerous relevant courses, covering a wide spectrum of business applications, and training facilities were of a high standard. Courses were scheduled by a centralised training function and communicated well in advance. Why then was there the poor perception of training by employees? The following were the main causes:

  • Favouritism was perceived regarding who was sent on courses and development programmes.
  • Related to the point above was that people in sales were perceived to be favoured above those in other business functions.
  • Managers were often reluctant to send their subordinates on training due to work pressures and/or cancelled training at the last minute.
  • Whereas in some instances personal development plans did exist, these were never communicated to employees, giving rise to the perception that management did not take employee development seriously.
  • The hard mistake was committed by holding people accountable in positions before they had undergone the prescribed training.

What appeared initially as a training deficit, falling within the ability spectrum of leadership, proved to be more of an accountability issue. This applied for the following reasons:

  • Managers were too results focussed and failed to see that the provision of ability to their subordinates was one of their key accountabilities.
  • Managers also failed to appreciate that communication is a key accountability.
  • Historically managers were not held accountable for failing to send people on training or for ensuring that development plans existed.

The remedy to the situation therefore did not lie with training materials, facilities or systems but rather with changing the accountability culture of the organisation.

In the case of the chemical manufacturer it was found that some excellent training manuals and related materials existed and that these had recently been revised by a senior person in the technical function. Some systems and procedures around training existed but were arguably in need of improvement.

The fundamental problem was that these materials were largely unused and certainly not used in a systematic way. The reasons for this can be encapsulated under the headings of means and accountability.

Means: The area, being a major hazardous installation and  consisting of several plants over an extensive area, had only one dedicated trainer. This person’s role had become increasingly administrative over time. This in response to the need to cater for ever increasing compliance issues and the hunger of head office for information relating to black economic empowerment and Sectorial Education and Training Authority (SETA) requirements. The trainer therefore literally did not have time to do any training or to assist line managers in the application of the excellent training materials which were in place.

Accountability: Similar to the other organisation managers were not held adequately accountable for the training of the people and many did not view this has a high priority. This was also encouraged by the prevalence of the soft mistake in the organisation. The situation whereby the trainer was disempowered from delivering a real training service was tolerated for a long time. Thus the structures above the trainer were not held accountable for the provision of the service they were contracted to provide. Herein are also echoes of the soft mistake.

In conclusion, dysfunctions which appear initially to be ability issues (remediable by training and coaching) are very often more attributable to the lack of accountability, or inappropriate accountability (such as the hard and the soft mistakes), in the organisation. This was the case particularly at the motor retail company. In the case of the chemical manufacturing entity there were indeed dysfunctions within the training system but of equal magnitude was the poor state of accountability for the provision of ability.

Want To Know How You Are Doing As A Leader? Just Ask Your People!

Legitimate Leadership believes that if one truly wants to know how a leader is doing, the best judges are the very people who depend on that person for leadership.  We incorporate this principle into our approach to transforming leaders by conducting Leadership Surveys for each participant. These surveys diagnose how the leader is perceived to be aligned to the four key criteria of giving Care, providing Means, cultivating Ability, and holding people Accountable.

The process is of course confidential. It provides leaders with immensely useful feedback – and gives them clarity and focus on where their development opportunities lie.

When discussing this feedback with leaders on our programmes, one of the questions I often ask is how often they themselves ask their people directly for feedback on how they are doing.  The response is not about how often it happens, but more about whether it happens at all.

It always strikes me as such a missed opportunity for leaders to build trust with their people. I insist that they start doing it, and doing it regularly.

Why?  The crux of the Legitimate Leadership framework is whether subordinates perceive their manager to be genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.  It is my view that there are few things that demonstrate this more practically on a day-to-day basis than a leader being genuinely interested in the impact that her words and deeds have on her people.

When I first suggest to leaders that they start doing this, the number one concern is that the leader will not get the truth.  That the answer will be that “everything is fine”.  There is therefore no point in asking unless one uses a confidential process.

It is my view though, that evidence of a genuine relationship of trust between leader and subordinate will be that the leader asks his people for feedback, and they absolutely know with conviction that they get the straight-between-the-eyes truth.  This will only happen when the only consequence for giving the leader honest feedback is a better leader – and people only learn this over time.

This means that if a leader wants to get honest feedback he has to start asking for it regularly and showing he is prepared to do something about it. Building trust through asking for leadership feedback requires far more than just asking the question.

The reason you’re asking for feedback is to give your team better leadership, not to feel good about yourself.  The only consequence of giving you feedback should be a change in leadership behaviour.  Don’t start unless you are prepared to stick to this principle.

When asking for feedback, the following guidelines can be helpful:

  1. Have a theme, and ask each person questions around the same theme, for example: Are our one-on-ones focusing on the right things? Do you find team meetings help you to do your job better? What are the things you need to do your job that you are not getting from me? Do I spend enough time helping you with work-related problems? Directive questions are far more likely to solicit useful feedback than an open-ended “how-am-I-doing” questions.
  2. Whatever feedback you are given, the number one rule is to thank the person for the feedback and convey that you will think about what she has said and decide how to proceed.
  3. Demonstrate willingness to action this feedback.
  4. Decide what specifically you are going to change.
  5. Communicate this clearly to your people, and that you will ask for feedback again on how it is working.
  6. Implement it for while.
  7. Ask for feedback again, and repeat step 2 and 3.
  8. If you decide not to change something or act on feedback given, make it clear why you will not change it.  If appropriate, ask for alternatives. Above all, take responsibility for these decisions. Do not say you can’t change something because your boss/the company/HR won’t allow it. You always have a choice.

The key to starting this process is to accept that you will probably not get the truth initially, and to persevere. One manager I coached in 2016 reported that she spent six months asking for feedback and doing something about it before she really felt she started to get the truth.

This process works to build trust with your people precisely because it practically demonstrates that you are prepared to put your people’s interests ahead of your own.

Unleashing Employee Engagement in the Organisation

In 2015 Legitimate Leadership introduced the first Grow to Care workshops. These are intended for employees who do not have others reporting to them. Although the fundamental precepts of leadership are covered, the focus is not on leadership as such but rather on establishing the criteria for excellence in individual contribution and on gaining commitment to making a personal contribution in the workplace and beyond.

Furthermore, the workshop has the objective of taking the ethos of legitimate leadership down to the lowest levels and establishes a common vocabulary throughout an organisation.

If successfully implemented beyond the workshop, the Grow to Care intervention thus has the profoundly benevolent outcome of unleashing willingness to contribute at the level where the customer interface is the most immediate.


As is the case with any workshop, achieving real benefits will depend on what happens both before and after. Experience has shown that if there is not active line manager commitment, if participants are not properly prepared for the workshop, and if there is not pertinent post-workshop interaction, the benefits of attending will be diluted or may only be manifest outside of the workplace.


It is essential that first line managers are on board with the principles of legitimate leadership before their reports attend the Grow to Care workshop. Obviously in the absence of this condition, managers will be disenabled in supporting the intervention.

Having said this, there should not be too much of a time lapse before the exposure of first line managers and their subordinates attending Grow to Care. In a major intervention undertaken by Legitimate Leadership, first line managers were exposed to the introduction and application modules in 2013 and 2014 but their subordinates only attended Grow to Care in 2016. This gave rise to a decline in momentum and the dilution of benefits.

The prior exposure of higher management to legitimate leadership concepts is therefore necessary but certainly not sufficient to successfully launch Grow to Care. Management also needs to be actively and enthusiastically committed to the precepts and the need to cascade them to their subordinates.

At one organisation, the conducting of Grow to Care workshops was resisted by a minority of first line managers, despite this being supported by their senior management. The reasons for this were not clearly articulated but seemed to have stemmed from:

Intellectual arrogance in believing that the concepts were either beyond the comprehension of factory operators or that there was no benefit in exposing them.
Perhaps of a more sinister nature, the fear that if operators were exposed to what makes a manager a legitimate leader, they would hold their managers upwardly accountable.

These first line managers sent their reports to the workshop with great reluctance (to avoid censure from their seniors). The result was that little or no benefit was derived. Fortunately as noted, they were a minority of the first line managers.

It may be going too far to state that managers should not be permitted to nominate their subordinates for Grow to Care until they themselves have been “certified as competent” in their knowledge of and their willingness to implement Care and Growth. However if this is not the case, benefits will be significantly diluted.


Managers who are not committed will either not prepare their people for attending the workshop or do so very poorly. Even committed managers may not do so adequately unless they are aware of the crucial importance of doing so.

Before arrival delegates should have been given a synopsis of the workshop objectives. This would include the following:

The workshop is linked to the leadership modules which their managers have been attending. It will therefore give them some insight into the content.
The workshop will enhance their personal excellence, particularly with regard to their ability to contribute in all spheres of life.

Experience has shown that if delegates are equipped with this pre-knowledge they will arrive at the workshop with enthusiasm.

In a current intervention, first line managers were given the preparation and debriefing of their nominees for the workshop as a “workplace application assignment”. They are expected to report back to their coach in this regard. This has worked extremely well.


Having conducted the first series of Grow to Care Workshops in 2016, delegates asked the question, “So what happens next?” They had left the workshop enthused with the desire to contribute but were not certain about how to apply this back at work.

Two aspects were addressed to answer the delegates’ question:

The issue of post-workshop application is now dealt with more explicitly in the workshop content.
The delegates’ managers were given guidance as to the importance of engaging with their reports after the workshop and to the nature of this engagement.

As already mentioned, in the current intervention delegates were given a specific workplace assignment as reproduced below:


Within a week of one of your reports returning from a Grow to Care workshop meet with him to:

Ask him to share his experience of the workshop with you.
Compare notes on what it means to contribute and what a powerful team means.
Ask her how you can help her and the team to contribute more.
Ask her if there are things she can do more of, less of, or differently to increase her contribution and that of the team.


Grow to Care has enormous organisational development potential. However this will only be fully realised with the commitment and support of delegates’ immediate managers. Even committed managers may miss the opportunity of preparing their reports for the workshop and in debriefing them after the workshop. These aspects therefore need to be made explicit.