QUESTION OF THE MONTH: How do Legitimate Leadership principles help to drive initiative and innovation?
ANSWER: The most direct link between Legitimate Leadership and innovation is through the core principles of empowerment. Empowerment is about incrementally handing over control, in the form of decision-making authority, to the next level in the organisation. What is required over time is a shift from directive to inclusive – being clear on the expected contribution (including expectations of an innovative mindset) without telling people how to do their jobs. This takes courage on the part of the leader. It means expecting people to take initiative and experiment, and then living with and holding people to account for the outcome (reward, recognition, censure, discipline). Nothing kills initiative like a negative response to a good idea. Also, leaders frequently have to use all the courage at their disposal to resist the temptation to be drawn into deciding for people.
The end point is that employees take initiative and make their own choices in the best interests of the collective, quite literally free from all but a few legislated controls. In this world free from controls, people are not only able to, but also choose to, innovate responsibly in the interests of the short and long term success of the organisation. They do this because they are personally mature (so they choose to give rather than take), they believe that the organisation’s “cause” is worth giving to, and that the organisation’s stakeholders are deserving of their contribution and loyalty.
Of course, real organisations never quite get there, but some certainly get closer than others. A world where people contribute innovatively, with benevolent intent and free from burdensome controls, is the world that the Legitimate Leadership Model is trying to cultivate (by incrementally suspending controls). Even with something as important as safety, it is better to cultivate ownership of safe practices through deliberate empowerment than to put in place disempowering controls.
– Ian Munro, director, Legitimate Leadership.