August 31, 2023 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council
Share by Email
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.