Articles

What To Do About Leaders Driven By Self-Interest

March 22, 2018 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council

In the world generally, it seems, the cycle of greed and fear is well entrenched – and so the level of discontent is at an all-time high. This calls leadership – or the lack thereof – under the spotlight. It would seem that leaders running countries and corporations are actually ruining them, with their singular focus on the “I”.

Of course, the opposite is also true: there are always examples of great leaders. But they seem to be the odd ones out in systems that remain focused on using people as resources to achieve results.

Here’s the real challenge to leadership though, and cause for serious reflection: if leaders do not genuinely care for and grow their people, they should not be in leadership. Leadership is about people, not things – human beings, not machines designed for pre-determined outcomes.

I have been vexed by the issue of organisations rolling out training, coaching and leadership interventions with limited systemic stickiness or tangible culture transformation. How can it be that so much amazing work happens in the development arena, with so little impact on a systemic level?

How is it that there are so few organisations for which people willingly show up to make a contribution?

Here’s my conclusion: organisations invest heavily in individual, team and leadership interventions in an effort to get people to work more efficiently and effectively with each other in pursuit of organisational objectives and values.

The company’s mission and values are plastered all over its buildings in a subliminal attempt to elicit the emergence of a unified culture. But more often than not every individual finds a different expression for the value set based on his/her own interpretation, maturity and experience.

The outcome ultimately is the emergence of a plethora of sub-cultures within the corporation. This results in inconsistency of work experience for staff across the entity and it is this inconsistency of staff experience that then becomes the inconsistent customer experience of the brand.

All of these sub-cultures are directly aligned with the prevailing leadership of each division/strategic business unit. There is always a philosophical or cognitive intent as a leader to be a certain way; but when the pressure is on and metrics are not tracking in the desired direction, prevailing leadership behaviours and practices revert to the usual forms of control – namely, carrot and stick, designed to “motivate” specific responses out of people.

Over time, the carrots need to get bigger in order to satisfy the growing, greed; and the sticks need to instil more fear. Not the ingredients for innovation and growth!

What approach would encourage the best in people, and therefore real sustainable systemic growth?

CREATE WILLINGNESS THROUGH LEGITIMACY, TRUST, CONTRIBUTION AND ACCOUNTABILITY

A systemic answer is offered by the Legitimate Leadership Model, which addresses the issue of real authority and power versus systems choked by blanket controls implemented to manage exceptions, when leaders are not prepared to deal with isolated non-performance, accountability and empowerment.

It offers the leaders at all levels within the organisation a consistent set of practices and behaviours designed to elicit LEGITIMACY, in that people willingly give authority to leadership; TRUST, in that leadership are seen to have people’s best interests at heart; ACCOUNTABILITY, in respect of ensuring that people have the means and ability to execute tasks and to be held to account; and finally, CONTRIBUTION, evidenced through the willingness of people to go above and beyond what is expected of them.

When every leader in an enterprise is equipped and held to a leadership standard, supported by a set of practices and behaviours to ensure consistency of a leadership culture designed to bring out the best in people, the outcome is a shift within the organisation from people who are there to take to being there to give.

Leaders who are focused on bringing out the best in their people ultimately also grow, and so also the organisation.

Leadership is not the journey to rise in the ranks. Leadership is the journey to help others rise. – Simon Sinek.

 

Wendy Lambourne
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