The 9 Misconceptions

August 20, 2016 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council


Many of those in positions of authority who are exposed to the Legitimate Leadership Model don’t actually ‘GET’ it.  The Model is seemingly simple and leaders therefore miss what it is arguing for – nothing less than a radical revision of management beliefs and practices.  Leaders learn the language of Legitimate Leadership but fail to comprehend what sits beneath the Model’s vocabulary.

It is my intention to deal with each of these in turn under a series of Blog entries. Literally, one misconception at a time.

Misconception 1: caring for people is bad for business

April 2013

Many of those in positions of authority who are exposed to the Legitimate Leadership Model don’t actually ‘GET’ it.  The Model is seemingly simple and leaders therefore miss what it is arguing for – nothing less than a radical revision of management beliefs and practices.  Leaders learn the language of Legitimate Leadership but fail to comprehend what sits beneath the Model’s vocabulary.

It is my intention to deal with each of these in turn under a series of Blog entries. Literally, one misconception at a time.

In the process I would like you to participate.  Perhaps there are other misconceptions that you would like to add to the list?  Your experience may even suggest that these so called misconceptions are in fact a reflection of your own experience?  Whatever, please spice up the debate.

So here’s the first one.

MISCONCEPTION ONE: Caring for People is Bad for Business…

Actually the Opposite is True!

This was brought home to me most graphically when I did a piece of work at an aeronautical company.  One of the many problems at the time was a machine shop inspection backlog problem.  The number of items pending was such that it was difficult to get past them and into the inspection area.  Despite the crisis that the backlog was causing the business there was absolutely no sense of urgency.

I asked the inspectors why this was the case?  Their frank reply was as follows: “THEY don’t give a $h1t about us, so WE don’t give a $h1t about THEIR business”.  In plain English, if you want people to care about your business then you genuinely need to care about them.  Your commitment to them will be commensurate with or directly proportional to their commitment to the achievement of the goals and objectives of your business.

Allied to this there is a view that of the two criteria for legitimate power, the Growth criterion takes precedence.  The Care element is somehow of less import.  In fact Legitimate Leadership are of equal significance.  When one of the two are missing the consequences are inevitable.

If leaders Care and do not Grow their people the result is stagnation, complacency and low standards.  Care on its own, moreover, breeds dependency and cultivates conditions where people take advantage of what they perceive to be weak leadership.  They may like, but do not respect those in command.

If leaders Grow but don’t Care for their people, their people feel under the whip.  They may be driven to produce the results but they are not doing so willingly.  Their loyalty is not to the leadership but to themselves.  This means that they will be inclined to leave when made a better offer.  Moreover, if the organsiation hits a bad patch, they will elect to jump ship rather than pick up the oars and help weather the storm.  They may respect those in charge for their ability to deliver the results but they will not be loyal to them.

They certainly will never love them.

Misconception 2: empowerment equals democratisation

I am not quite sure where this idea comes from but I assume that the reasoning goes something like this:

  • The measure of empowerment is where the decision making authority lies in an organisation.
  • As empowerment increases so decision making authority moves away from the centre and to lower levels in the hierarchy.
  • This, taken to its logical conclusion, means that “the people decide”.
  • The word for this is DEMOCRACY.

There clearly are organisations which are run on democratic lines.  This is where everyone in the organisation is equal and decisions are made by consensus.  There are also groups where no one is designated leader of the group or groups who have a leader but the leader is voted, rather than appointed, into the role.

However, these kinds of organisations are exceedingly rare.  In most of the organisations that we have worked with, over the past 20 years, those in command roles have been appointed, not elected, into them.  People in the organisation fit into a hierarchy, albeit some organisational hierarchies are flatter than others.  Decisions are not made by a committee but by individual leaders who are paid to make those decisions.  Things get done without a vote being taken and it is not the majority view which automatically precedes.

The Legitimate Leadership Model is not an advocate of either leaderless groups nor groups where leaders are chosen by the people.  The model in fact is in full agreement with a view once expressed by Christian Schumacher.  Namely that democratic groups function only under the following circumstances:

  • There is plenty of time for the group to debate extensively the options and agree a solution.
  • The group is very small so only a limited and manageable number of relationships need to be actualised.
  • There are very limited alternatives to choose from.

These conditions, from my experience, are not often present in a world which is complex, competitive and fast changing like the world is today.

The leaderless group and appointed vs. elected leader debates, moreover, miss a far more critical issue.  The issue is not whether organisations should have leaders or not.  Nor whether the leadership style in the organisation should shift from autocratic to democratic.

The critical issue is one which pertains to anyone in authority in an organisation; how to first establish and then maintain the legitimacy of that authority.

In this regard the following critical points which underpin the Legitimate Leadership Model on empowerment are pertinent.

  • Firstly, the precondition for empowerment is inequality, not equality.  For those in authority to give up authority they have to have it in the first place.  This is true of anyone in authority – parents, teachers, coaches or managers.  Without the requisite authority teachers cannot teach, coaches cannot coach and managers cannot manage.

When those in authority are stripped of their authority – when managers cannot dismiss, teachers cannot discipline and parents are not allowed to spank their children – they cannot enable those in their charge.

  • Secondly, empowerment is not about replacing autocratic behaviour with democratic behaviour since there is room for both in any legitimate relationship of power.  The ‘want to’ boss, the boss people work for willingly, can behave in a soft/democratic manner and in a hard and autocratic way.  His/her autocratic behaviour will be accepted but only if it is perceived as promoting empowerment, if the boss is being tough with his/her subordinates’ best interests in mind.

Autocratic behaviour is in fact entirely legitimate but only when it is seen to be subordinate to the intention to empower. 

  • Thirdly, there is a misconception that people are either empowered or they are not.  In other words, that control either sits in the manager’s or subordinate’s hands.  The handover of control is somehow instantaneous.  At one extreme the imposition of control, coupled with an intention of never letting go, is disempowering.  At the same time, the instantaneous and total suspension of control is also disempowering.  Possibly even more so.

What is empowering is the incremental suspension of control done with the intention of empowering the subordinate.

Misconception 3: controls are bad and should be done away with

This misconception is not unrelated to the misconception that “Empowerment Equals a Democratisation of the Workplace”.  The issue of controls in an organisation are obviously related to the issue of control. As far as controls are concerned, the Legitimate Leadership Model absolutely believes that control has a critical role to play in the empowerment of people in an organisation – but as a means not an end.

In other words, the Legitimate Leadership Model proposes that the level of control which is exercised in any legitimate relationship of power must be commensurate with the maturity of the person being empowered.  The starting point is the current level of maturity of the person being empowered.  As the person matures the amount of control should lessen, become less stringent.

When it comes to controls, on the other hand, it is clear that all organisations have them. It is even possible to view an organisation as nothing more than a web of controls.

What the Legitimate Leadership Model is clearly NOT saying, however, is that all controls are bad and should be done away with.  It absolutely does not advocate a whole sale obliteration of the systems and structures which make up an organsiation while turning a blind eye to all hazards in the process.

What the Legitimate Leadership Model is actually saying is that controls have a vital role to play in an enterprise, but as a means not an end.  The need for controls is fully recognised, but only when the aim of control is subordinate to the intention to empower, to produce people who are accountable for the contribution that they make.

More specifically, what the Legitimate Leadership Model believes about organisational controls, as reflected in an organisation’s systems and structures, is the following:

  • That there is no final solution in terms of either an organisation’s structures or systems.  Neither structures nor systems should be set in stone.  Rather they should be under continuous review.  They should be in a state of continuous incremental change, with each small adjustment being made as circumstances change and people grow.
  • That in terms of organisational structure no level in the management hierarchy should exist only for reasons of managing and controlling the work of the level below it. Each level in the hierarchy needs to add its own unique value, distinct from the value being added by the level above or below it.
  • That as people mature they should be given more latitude. This does not suggest that all the rules are jettisoned. Rather that there is a gradual relaxing of rules and procedures replacing them with broader policies and guidelines.
  • That every time you put a check into a process you inevitably remove accountability from the person doing the task to the checker of the task. For that reasonthe 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 them appropriately accountable.
  • That whenever authority is given, so too is accountability. Before people are 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 Organisations should be weaned off their controlling function to fulfil more of an enabling role. Allied to this that decisions which have been moved into the hands of staff functions should be incrementally returned to the line.
  • That leaders should be tasked with the ongoing review and incremental removal of controls. That leaders should be rewarded for taking out controls not for putting them in.

Misconception 4 – boss & subordinates relationship is the same as parent & child

I remember being in the United Kingdom a few years ago and watching an episode of the reality TV programme Supernanny in my hotel room. In each episode a professional nanny shows parents, through instruction and observation, alternative ways to discipline their children and regain authority in their households. I asked my client the next day whether he had seen the programme? ‘Yes’, he said, ‘it’s Legitimate Leadership!’ Many of the people who are exposed to the Legitimate Leadership model do in fact believe that the principles inherent in the framework have broader applicability than just in the context of leading others at work. Several have said that they have used the model in their personal lives as well as at work.

The model has, moreover, been put to use in a number of contexts other than that of leadership excellence in organisations. It has been applied with good effect in an educational context as is testified in a number of articles by Pakistani teacher Shahpur Jamall and specifically at Leap Schools in South Africa.  It has also been used in sports coaching. Dr François Hugo also applied the model when he was engaged at a point in time to coach the South African cricket team. He posted the following comment:

In reply to your enquiry regarding the work I have done with the SA cricket team as well as the IPL, I did the following three interventions:

1. I worked through the thematic with both coaches and their management teams: I asked them to describe a coach with whom players would willingly ‘go to war’. We discussed what the main focus of the coach should be: the results or the players?

Although they initially experienced it as counter intuitive, the workshop helped them understand the importance of the coach’s focus. If the focus is on the results, the players feel exploited, as the results are all about the coach and not the players. If however the players experience the coach’s intent as being interested in them as people and their wellbeing (Care) and also to empower them to become the best cricketers in the world (Growth), they will be totally committed and the results will follow.

Which has just been proven by the success of the Proteas against Australia.

2. In my sessions with the team my main theme was the ability to be in the ‘now’ and to surrender the outcome. Initially a difficult concept, but once they grasped it, very powerful.

3. In my sessions with the players individually I reinforced this theme and helped them to master it. In addition to this I also assisted the players in running a mental program in order to improve their concentration on the field. This latter part is not based on the Schuitema thematic, but on a model developed by an Olympic champion, Lanny Basham.”

Excerpt from the reply received from Dr Francois Hugo about application of the Care & Growth™ Model on the SA Cricket Team

What is clear, however, is that the Legitimate Leadership Model is not arguing for managers to become parents to their subordinates at work. The model is not proposing a parenting relationship between a boss and direct reports.

What the model is arguing for is legitimate power for anyone in a position of authority.

What the initial research, and over 20 years experience with implementing the model, has demonstrated is that there are universal criteria for legitimate power. These criteria are not vague or arbitrary.

The criteria of care and growth apply to any relationship of power; parent-child, teacher-learner, doctor-patient, government-citizens, officers and soldiers, religious leaders and their followers. In all of these relationships the price to be paid for power is care and growth. When the superordinate in the relationship does not care for and grow the subordinate(s) in the relationship, the latter do not grant the former power. The superordinate, when this is the case, is left with control.

Misconception 5 – care and growth are soft and fluffy things

The idea that Legitimate Leadership is a soft and fluffy thing clearly arises from the word Care in ‘care and growth’. Both subordinates and managers have ascribed a soft and fluffy connotation to the word either because they don’t understand what Care means and/or they have chosen, in pursuit of their own interests, not to.

Subordinates either think or have chosen to think that Care means:

  • My boss should only ever be nice to me, should always be ‘soft and sweet’ and never ‘hard and tough’ with me.
  • My boss must acquiesce to all of my demands – for an increase, for time off, for improvements in benefits and working conditions.
  • My boss should not demand delivery or insist on high standards.
  • My boss should let me get away with blue murder and forgive me all of my sins.
  • My boss should not expect me to perform in my job when I have personal concerns; should let me underperform into perpetuity if necessary.
  • My boss should be a mate or a friend not a boss.

Those in authority at work either think or have chosen to think that Care means:

  • Socialising with subordinates after work including inviting them home.
  • Lobbying for improvements in pay and employee benefits including flexible working hours and employee-friendly shift patterns.
  • Referring employees with personal problems to the people function or some other care professional.
  • Agreeing with all employee suggestions whether they are good or not.
  • Involving employees in each and every decision and letting them decide.
  • Knowing the names of subordinates’ children or pets.
  • Siding with subordinates against more senior management decisions/representing their interests.

What Care, in the context of legitimate relationships at work, actually means is having the best interests of employees at heart.

This translates into the following:

  1. Being genuinely interested in one’s people as human beings not human resources.
    By that I mean really ‘knowing’ what makes them ‘tick’, not that they have a goldfish called Spotty!
  2. Being available to one’s people and giving them time and attention.
  3. Acting in every situation in the best interests of one’s people. Giving each subordinate what they need which will enable their growth, not necessarily what they want. Doing the right thing, rather than the expedient thing, with ones’ employees.

Misconstruing Care is one thing. It is another thing entirely to write off the Legitimate Leadership Model as something which is ‘wishy-washy’, ‘soft and fluffy’ or part of the ‘beads and sandals brigade’. This is because to consistently care for and grow people takes immense backbone and courage. This is because those in authority, who really do care for and grow their people do the following:

  • They do not tolerate mediocrity but rather set and insist on high standards.
  • They confront poor performance and both censure for carelessness and discipline for deliberate malevolence.
  • If people have been given the means and ability and yet are still not capable, they remove them from their roles.
  • They single out individuals for recognition and are quite prepared to say to those who have not been recognised why this is so.
  • They eliminate levels in the hierarchy for which there is no added value and do away with jobs which do not have at least one value adding and measurable outcome.
  • They entrust others and in so doing give up control of predictable outcomes.
  • They hold managers accountable, not for results, but for holding their people accountable.
  • They shift attention from outcome to process and stay focused on contribution even when the desired results are not forthcoming.
  • They do what is correct rather than what is expedient.
  • They change themselves, endeavour to become a person that people ‘want to’ work for, rather than seek to change others.

From the above it is clear that Legitimate Leadership is definitely not a ‘soft and fluffy’ thing.

There is a metaphor for the Legitimate Leadership Model which makes this point very clearly.

It is a gardening metaphor. The gardener cares deeply for the trees and shrubs in his care.  At the same time, enter a gardener’s tool shed and you could be excused for thinking that you have entered an 11th century torture chamber.  Other than the gardener’s watering can and hosepipe, the gardening implements do some exceedingly hard things to the plants that the gardener cares about so much.

The essence of the Legitimate Leadership Model is benevolence in the heart but steel in the hand.

It is not possible to realise the best in people by always being nice to them.

Misconception 6 – giving means being nice/being taken advantage of

The intent to give is not necessarily about the boss being nice, being altruistic or being taken advantage of. It is about the boss being appropriate to what the situation demands. Giving in fact presents itself in two categories. There is the giving of things associated with the self, which is called generosity. Then there is the giving of self, which is termed courage. Both forms of giving imply a preparedness to put oneself at risk, potentially to lose. Generosity suggests that one is willing to rise above a fear of loss of things while courage necessitates rising above a fear of loss of self.

In the context of a boss-subordinate relationship, generosity is not only a giving of money or resources. It includes inter alia a giving of time, assistance, support, concern, praise, knowledge sharing, understanding.

Acting courageously may include the giving of constructive feedback, making unpopular decisions, holding someone accountable as opposed to instituting a control and the disclosure of sensitive information.

Taking, on the other hand, means that in a given context the leader acts inappropriately. If the situation requires generosity, but the leader behaves in a so called courageous way, then (s)he is not giving but taking. This kind of taking is called cowardice.

When a boss is under pressure for results and demands delivery rather than asking ‘what can I do to help?’ the leader is being selfish. When a boss should dismiss someone for poor performance but instead entices the person to leave by way of a handsome retrenchment package, the boss is evidencing cowardice.

To say that a leader should be generous or courageous, whichever is applicable in a given situation, is however, not sufficient. This is because generosity and courage are still too abstract. Everything to do with courage is not necessarily confrontational. It takes courage, for example, to tell someone that their life partner has been killed in a road accident on the way to work, but the leader’s behaviour would hardly be confrontational. Similarly, not everything to do with generosity is sweet and accommodating.

Between generosity / courage and behaviour there is a set of criteria which more specifically indicates what giving appropriately means. These criteria are values.

Giving therefore means to act consistently with the value that is operative in any given situation. It means to do what is correct, even if it does not appear to be the most expedient or workable thing to do at the time. Only when the leader does this is (s)he being appropriate. When (s)he fails to do so, (s)he is taking.

In a disciplinary situation, for example, the value which is operative is fairness. Giving here, means being fair, not nice. The value which is operative in the case where the employee’s partner dies, however, is not fairness. The criterion which makes this a giving rather than a taking transaction, is compassion or care.

Misconception 7: your own needs won’t be met

What sits behind the view that as a leader, if you care and grow your people then your own needs won’t be met, are some very real fears that most people in leadership roles have at least some of the time.

When leaders are honest about their fears they raise the following concerns:

  • If I spend time caring and growing my people then my own job won’t be done.
  • If I give the job to someone other than me, the job won’t be done as well and this will reflect badly on me.
  • If I give someone a chance they may mess up.
  • If I share information, the information may be used against me.
  • If I hold people accountable then they may not like me.
  • If I allow my people to take the credit then they are going to look good not me.
  • If I share my knowledge and experience then I am potentially putting my own job at risk.

The question of course is whether these fears are valid and, therefore, is it unrealistic to expect leaders to put their people’s needs before their own?

In the first instance, it is important to clarify what the Legitimate Leadership Model is actually saying about this matter.  What it is not saying is that leaders should not have needs.  Just because a person is in a position of authority does not mean that they don’t have needs.  As human beings we all have needs for significance, harmony, security and fulfillment.

What the Legitimate Leadership Model is saying, however, is that just because a leader has needs does not mean that they should act on them.  In any situation a leader has a CHOICE to either act on the basis of their needs or on the basis of the value which is operative in the situation that they are in.  Leaders aligned to the care and growth criteria demonstrate the capacity to suspend their needs to do what is right.  Legitimate leaders do what is correct not what is expedient in the situation.

Our experience is that being values driven rather than needs driven is possible.  There are leaders who are values rather than needs driven and who are, therefore, able to rise above fear and greed and act with generosity and courage.  They manage to do so, perhaps not in every situation, but at least most of the time.

Further to this when they put their needs second the rewards that they reap for doing so are twofold:

  • The first consequence of leaders putting the needs of their people first is that their people trust them, are willing to go the extra mile and are loyal to them.  Their people want to get out of bed in the morning, come to work and give the very best that they have to offer.  When leaders do what is right by their people, their people give their discretionary effort every day.  This is because they are working for a ‘want to’ rather than a ‘have to’ boss.
  • The second consequence is that leaders transform or grow in the process.  They unleash the very best in themselves and realise their full potential as human beings.

In every interaction that a boss has with a subordinate, the boss makes a choice, whether to put what is in the boss’s immediate self-interest second or not.  The choice that the boss makes directly reflects on his/her personal maturity.  Moreover, whenever leaders act for reasons higher than their immediate self-interest they change.  They transmute and continue transmuting.  They become the best human being they can be.

What the Legitimate Leadership Model argues for is the belief that in serving the other’s best interest, you in fact serve your own interests best.

Being here to give, in other words, as a leader is good for the organisation, it is good for one’s people and it is good for oneself.  Of the three, however, the primary beneficiary is oneself.

Misconception 8: Legitimate Leadership is anti the profit motive

There is a view that the Legitimate Leadership Model does not believe that companies exist to make money. More specifically that companies exist to make a profit. Following on from this, that the Legitimate Leadership Model says that profits are bad and, by implication, that those to whom the profits accrue are really not very nice.

This perception is both right and wrong. It is right in the sense that no, we do not believe that the purpose of a business is to make a profit.  Rather we believe that the purpose of the business is , first and foremost, to make a contribution or add value to a customer.  One of the consequences of doing this well is that the business makes a profit. To say that a business exists to make a profit is analogous to saying that people live to eat rather than that people eat in order to live.

What profits do is provide the means for a company to continue to serve its customers.

Profits are good but as a means rather than an end. Further to this it is simplistic to say that it is either about the shareholder OR it is about the customer.  It is clearly about both but the real question is which of the two should the leadership of an organisation commit to?

In Legitimate Leadership’s view successful companies commit first and foremost to making a contribution, to the pursuit of a worthwhile purpose. Having established that purpose they then solicit the help of shareholders, employees and suppliers to achieving it.

The Legitimate Leadership Model, therefore, is not hostile to the shareholder.

It just puts the shareholder in perspective. What the Legitimate Leadership Model really has to say about successful enterprises and the role of the shareholder in organisational success is as follows: The basic premise that we start from is that successful groups of any kind produce a surplus. In a commercial organisation that surplus is called a profit.  The more successful the enterprise, the bigger the surplus. What makes the surplus possible is that the members of the organisation give more than they take.

Organisation’s succeed, in other words, to the degree to which the members of the organisation pursue the goals and objectives of the organisation unconditionally.

Peoples’ preparedness to give to the goals of the business is fuelled by a belief that what the organisation is here to do is worthwhile.  They give most willingly, in other words, when they feel that they are making a contribution to something bigger than themselves.

Good leaders understand that and, hence, invest in both making the organisation’s value add explicit and teaching / communicating it to everyone in the business.  They avoid inciting employees to give more in order to provide a Return On Investment (ROI) to a shareholder. This is because they know that this is not only, not inspiring, it potentially renders people in the business hostile to the shareholder.

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