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July 2018 – Question of the Month

July 16, 2018 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

Question of the Month: When is a Legitimate Leadership intervention not appropriate?

Answer:  I used to believe that there were four situations in which a Legitimate Leadership intervention was not appropriate. All four situations (see Legitimate Leadership (the book) p281-283) remain valid, but there is a fifth – namely, when the leadership of the enterprise is relentless in their avoidance of holding people accountable.

The four situations are as follows:

  1. When a business is fundamentally broken and is teetering on the verge of collapse. Under these circumstances, radical surgery, or unplugging of the life-support system, is what is called for. Legitimate Leadership, in other words, is not the appropriate medicine for a bad business strategy or unworkable business model.
  2. When an organisation is staffed with employees who are incapable of performing their jobs to at least a minimum standard. A successful Legitimate Leadership intervention requires a reasonable match between the work that needs to be done and people’s capability to do it. This includes leadership capability. When those in leadership roles, especially senior roles, are incapable of leading, a Legitimate Leadership intervention is doomed to fail.
  3. When the leadership of the enterprise is morally destitute. Legitimate Leadership provides a moral compass for those at work. It simply won’t “fit” in an organisation where the moral quality of those in charge is seriously questionable.
  4. When the leadership of the enterprise is convinced that they currently subscribe to and evidence all aspects of the Legitimate Leadership model. Whether they are right or not is not the issue. The leadership will be of the opinion that they have already “arrived” and that they therefore don’t need to change what they are doing already.

A Legitimate Leadership intervention moreover cannot succeed when those in charge categorically refused to act in the face of deliberate malevolence or inability to perform the basic requirements of the role. This is because holding people accountable is at the core of the Legitimate Leadership framework and, by definition, can only be done by those who have the line authority to hold others to account.

When those in authority lack the “testicular fortitude” to sanction in the face of gross negligence or deliberate malevolence, a Legitimate Leadership intervention cannot realise what it purports to deliver – namely, an organisation characterised by legitimacy, trust, contribution and accountability. What eventuates is the very opposite of these attributes – namely, an organisation where leaders have neither the respect nor trust of their people and where gross underperformance and misconduct prevail. In the end, nobody wins and the final outcome is the collapse of the enterprise.

Wendy Lambourne
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