Articles

Can Anyone Lead?

August 15, 2016 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

art-anyonelead

The original research into management-employee relationships, which led to the development of the Legitimate Leadership Model, found that trust in the management of any enterprise was granted or withheld on the basis of employee perceptions of leadership’s genuine concern for their welfare. Leaders are seen to be worthy of support, or not, on this basis only.

Extrapolation of the research findings led to the conclusion that leaders stand or fall on the basis of a single criterion: their INTENT or motive. Those in positions of authority, in essence, succeed to the degree to which they are there to “give” to their people as opposed to “get” something out of them.

Further to this, the intent of any leader is wholly within his/her control. It is each individual – no one else – who determines the motive(s) which sit behind and drive their actions. Further to this, intent bears no relationship to intellect, qualifications, interpersonal skill, managerial style or even personality.

Intent is not an ability issue but rather a matter of the will and, as such, intent is a choice. It follows logically, therefore, that anyone in a leadership role who chooses to give to his/her people, to care for and grow them, can lead.

From experience, most managers who are taken through the above logic feel liberated. They are released from the notion that only those blessed with a charismatic personality, superior intellect, oratory skill and an inclusive management style can lead. As a result managers, from diverse organisations across the world, have gone on to be exemplary Legitimate Leadership leaders. They have changed, their people have changed and the results have followed.

And yet there are still people in positions of authority who absolutely understand intent, and who subscribe to the Legitimate Leadership criteria, but still don’t succeed in leadership roles. Why this is so is a function of the leader him/herself, not of the context in which they lead. Leaders who fall short against the Legitimate Leadership criteria do so because of personal attributes which, in the context of leading others, constitute a fatal flaw.

The following six attributes can, if they are distinguishing features of a leader, seriously undermine that leader’s capacity to lead in line with the Legitimate Leadership criteria.

  • Virtuosity or superior technical skill or prowess in a given field. This is an asset – but not for someone in a care and growth role. This is because the giving required of leaders is a giving to people not to things. The Virtuoso may well want to make a contribution, but to things not people. As a result Virtuosos hold onto what they know and love, which is the technical stuff, and neglect the care and growth of their people.
  • Affiliation or a need to be connected to or in harmony with others. Strongly affiliative leaders have a need to fraternise with their subordinates. Their need to be closely connected, to be friends, with their people can make it difficult to establish an appropriate distance from them or to hold them accountable when required. Taken further, a strong need to always put the relationship first can result in nepotism or undue patronage with the person/people the leader has a special relationship.
  • Micro management and the enablement of others are mutually exclusive. This is because the empowerment of people, which is at the core of the Legitimate Leadership Model, is not possible without the capacity for trust and entrustment. Those in authority who need to be in control of outcomes find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to let go. They constantly check up on or second guess the decisions taken by their subordinates.
  • Ego driven leaders are in it for themselves. The success they strive for is their success, reflected in their position, level or significance, not that of their people. Their extreme competitiveness is experienced as ambition, sometimes ruthless ambition. They make very poor coaches. At an extreme they diminish their people – in order to be “big “; they keep others “small “, which is the very opposite of what a Legitimate Leadership leader is there to do.
  • Victims feel themselves to be at the mercy of forces beyond their control. They have what psychologists refer to as an external locus of control. Victims in charge are a problem. This is because victim behaviour is contagious, victims beget victims. Victim leaders often take the opportunity which high office affords them to get their own back on those they are convinced have disadvantaged them in the past. They use their position to take what they believe they are owed or are entitled to. At an extreme they plunder the resources that they have access to.
  • Lack of empathy can be experienced as a leader who lacks the “common touch”, is too patrician or aloof. Of greater concern is a person in authority who simply does not have a sincere concern for those in his/her charge, who has no compassion. This kind of leader is seen as hard-hearted, as a person who would easily sacrifice the people for the results, who would never sacrifice the results for the people.

We have all come across people in leadership roles who evince one or more of the above characteristics. There are propellorheads /geeks, popularists, control freaks, victims, egoists and results-at-all-costs people in every organisational hierarchy. There is a widespread view, moreover, that there are more of these kinds of people in the upper ranks of management than lower down in organisations. Put another way, there is a belief that there is an inverse relationship between “being here to give” and a person’s position in a hierarchy.

I am not convinced that this is true. I believe there are “givers” and “takers” at every level in an organisation. Moreover we should not confuse the ability to ascend an organisational hierarchy with leadership leaders. The latter bring out the best in the people in their charge. They generate unprecedented levels of trust, willingness and loyalty. The former do not.

People in authority with one or more of the six attributes above have people working for them who do their bidding and deliver the results, short term. But they don’t have people who do the extraordinary. Their people are continuously susceptible to a better offer. When the business hits a rocky patch – and what business does not? – they don’t pick up the oars and row through the stormy seas. They jump ship.

Intent is a matter of choice for anyone in command. A commitment to “give” to one’s people as opposed to “get” from them, to make their care and growth a priority or not, is a choice that anyone in a leadership role has to make. That choice has inevitable consequences.

Wendy Lambourne
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