September 2022 – Question Of The Month
September 29, 2022 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council
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Question: What does Legitimate Leadership believe about controls in an organisation?
Answer: In times of adversity, typically the number of rules and controls, particularly surrounding spending, increases in an attempt to meet tighter budgets – rather than setting cost reduction targets and giving local management the freedom to determine how to achieve them.
There is a misconception that Legitimate Leadership’s position is that all controls are bad and should be done away with. This is simply not true.
Legitimate Leadership in fact believes the following.
- Freedom without rules and constraints is anarchy.
- Rules and constraints without freedom is totalitarianism.
- Empowerment is freedom within constraints.
More specifically what the Legitimate Leadership model proposes regarding control(s) in an organisation is as follows:
- That the level of control which is exercised in an organisation should be commensurate with the level of maturity of the individual(s) involved. As people mature they should be given more latitude. This suggests that with increased maturity comes more autonomy/independent decision-making authority. It also suggests that what is done and how it is done becomes less prescriptive as people mature.
- That every time a control or a check is instituted, accountability is removed from the person doing the task to the checker of the task. For that reason the number of checks or controls in any business process should be kept to a minimum.
- That when there is a deviation from standard, the right action is not to impose a control on everyone but to find out who is responsible for the deviation and hold that person appropriately accountable. This is because control and accountability are mutually exclusive. You can have control or accountability, but not both.
- That whenever authority is given, so too is accountability. This means that before a person is granted the freedom to operate without control, a tight link must be forged between autonomy and accountability (both positive and negative).
- That staff functions (like Human Resources and Finance) which traditionally fulfil a control function in an organisation should be weaned off their controlling (auditing compliance) role to fulfil more of an enabling function. By that is meant that they should provide line managers with the means and ability to make wise decisions about, for example, people and money, rather than make those decisions for them. Allied to this, that they incrementally return decisions to line which have migrated into the hands of support functions.
- That control should be removed incrementally over time with due patience. By that is meant the following. Rather than a wholesale liberation of the systems and structures which make up an organisation while turning a blind eye to all the hazards in the process, leaders should:
- Begin with the small things rather than the big things, allowing people to progress from making small to bigger, more strategic decisions over time.
- Make small, finite adjustments to organisational design rather than dramatic organisation-wide restructurings.
- Stretch people continuously through new responsibilities and increased challenges rather than tossing them in the deep end and waiting to see if they sink or swim.
- Gradually relax rules and procedures and replace them with broader policies and guidelines.
- Encourage experimentation by allowing the space and time for testing and learning without having to get approval every step of the way.
Lastly, the leader should be rewarded for taking out controls rather than putting them in.