Articles

Innovating Leadership

August 25, 2022 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Put another way, when things don’t change, they atrophy or ultimately cease to exist.

Yet management has largely remained unchanged for the past 100 years.

Certainly, what managers believe they are here to do and for what purpose has remained largely unaltered for a century. Ask them (as we at Legitimate Leadership have done across the world for the past 25 years), “What are you here to do and for what purpose?” and the consistent response is, “I am here to get results out of people.”

Managers believe this for two reasons.

Firstly, people in a management role are generally not doing the work themselves – most of what is done is done by others. Secondly, most managers are measured and rewarded based on the results that they get out of people.

The problem with the results-focused conception is that it puts managers into a position where they are experienced by the people they lead as being there to ‘take’ from them. This in turn produces resistance and induces conflict into the relationship. Employees feel they are being coerced or forced when ‘the stick’ is used to get results out of them, and they resist. When ‘the carrot’ is used they feel manipulated, and their instinctive response is to manipulate back.

Legitimate Leadership turns this entire notion on its head.

It provides a radical rethink of leadership in organisations. We say that people in positions of authority in organisations are primarily there to give to their people, not to get anything out of them. This conclusion is based on seminal research into trust in management in the South African gold mines in the 1980s but validated consistently in over 300 organisations across the world since then.

The ‘give’ is not money, however. The ‘give’ moreover is not vague or arbitrary, but very specific. It distils to two drops of essence: Care (having a sincere and genuine concern about the wellbeing of the people in their charge), and Growth (or enabling people to become the best they can be).

This requires people in leadership positions to take their eyes off the results and put their attention on their people. It requires leaders to put the interests of their people first. When they do so, and only then, do their people give back.

At Legitimate Leadership, our consistent experience is that management (both individually and collectively) are trusted or not on the strength of their personal interest in the wellbeing of their people. Trust is granted or withheld on this basis only.

Employees gauge the genuineness or authenticity of that interest not on the basis of the sophistication of management communications or the company’s human resources policies and practices.

Rather, trust is built or eroded according to the choices that employees witness managers making. Whenever manager(s) choose to put their employees’ interests before their own interests, they gain trust. Whenever they suspend their own needs (and of course they have needs of their own) or sacrifice their self-interest to do the right thing, people experience them as sincere. They see their managers as values- rather than needs-driven and therefore trust them.

Conversely, when managers act in pursuit of their own interests, when they ride roughshod over the needs or concerns of their people, they lose trust. Whenever they do the expedient or convenient thing, rather than the right thing, their employees conclude that they are self-serving and cannot be trusted.

Anyone in a position of authority would like to be trusted by those they exercise authority over. It is clearly in the leader’s interests that this is the case. The irony however lies in the fact that management’s best interests are met not by pursuing their interests – but the opposite.

25 years ago, the thought of looking after your people’s interests rather than your own was an alien one. This is no longer the case – possibly because it has become increasingly apparent where a wholesale “take” leads to. Nowadays the premise of “my people’s interests first” is no longer even that contentious. The current challenge is not whether to put your people first or not. The question is rather how to do this.

Wendy Lambourne
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