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Legitimate Leadership in the UK last month took up an invitation to address the Headquarters, Home Command, of the British Army.
Legitimate Leadership had been asked to address a virtual internal conference of the headquarters on leadership and change. Wendy Lambourne and David Harding, both of Legitimate Leadership, gave their presentation the title “Serve To Lead” because that is the name of a handbook used by officers at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
The presentation and questions, which lasted for an hour, was held on 2 March 2021, and was attended by about 50 military personnel and 30 civilians.
In the presentation, Wendy Lambourne observed that Legitimate Leadership’s perspective on leadership – summarised in the phrase “benevolence in the heart but steel in the hand” – accords with much of officer training at Sandhurst. “This is also the core of their ethos – although they may use different words and different ways of getting there to Legitimate Leadership,” she said.
The Legitimate Leadership presentation was based on three premises:
Given these three premises, the presentation focused on two topics:
Africa Tikkun, one of South Africa’s largest non-profit organisations, assists many thousands of people in that country’s townships. But seven years ago, this extraordinary organisation set out, with Legitimate Leadership, to increase its employees’ level of engagement by showing employees that they also really mattered. The results of that exercise were dramatic and were part of a major turnaround in the organisation.
Early 2020, Africa Tikkun pivoted again: in response to the Covid 19 pandemic it changed direction from being an organisation which supported centre-registered families, to doing emergency mass distribution of food parcels to the broader community.
How Africa Tikkun achieved these changes, and the part that Legitimate Leadership played, was the subject of this webinar, which was held on 12 November and was attended by 111 people.
Background to the transformations in Africa Tikkun, was provided by Ian Munro, director of Legitimate Leadership, who moderated the webinar:
Africa Tikkun is one of the largest non-governmental organisations (NGO, non-profit) in South Africa. It works with children and young adults with a cradle-to-career model. It operates from five centres, four in Gauteng and one in the Western Cape. It has impacted more than 36,000 children directly. Additionally, Africa Tikkun also runs outreach programmes in schools and other institutions so the number of children actually impacted is much greater than 36,000 (see, for instance, Township Youth Learn Give to Grow).
In 2013 Africa Tikkun commissioned an employee engagement survey (see Afrika Tikkun – An Astounding Culture Shift In One Year ). The result showed 27% employee engagement within the organisation. At that time the organization had experienced significant growth over a long time which apparently had had negative implications for its culture and management disciplines on the ground.
The vision of the organization was not well understood by people on the ground and wasn’t being communicated properly to new people who joined the organisation. Managers weren’t available to their people.
The organization knew that something needed to change. So among other things Africa Tikkun engaged Legitimate Leadership.
A year later, the employee engagement survey was redone. Engagement had risen from 27% to 59%.
Said Munro: “That means that at the beginning of the 12 months, if there are three people talking at a water cooler, two of them are talking the organization down and one is talking it up. By the end of the 12 months, two people are talking the organization up and one of them is talking it down. It is chalk and cheese.
“The engagement surveys were done by an independent company which told us (Legitimate Leadership) afterwards that they had just not previously seen this kind of turnaround in such a short space of time.
“But perhaps even more remarkable than that was the fact that the change has been sustained. It is one thing to change an organization, it’s wholly different for that change to endure over as long as seven years – and it isn’t slowing down yet.
“The last part of the story is about Africa Tikkun and Covid and the lockdown in South Africa earlier this year. Within a matter of weeks Africa Tikkun was able to pivot from being an organization which supported centre-registered families to an organization which supported the broader community; which was able to move out of the classroom and into serving meals and distributing food parcels in the community.
“There are many organizations that struggle to turn their ship. But Afrika Tikkun did this in weeks and got their people to commit to a whole new way of doing things and a whole new reason for being.”
In the webinar, Ian Munro asked questions (preprepared and from the audience) of the three Afrika Tikkun participants:
Marc Lubner, group CEO of Africa Tikkun, who was intimately involved in the Legitimate Leadership application.
Leonie van Tonder, who was chief operating officer of Africa Tikkun for seven years and introduced Legitimate Leadership to Africa Tikkun.
Nehwoh Belinda, who heads Africa Tikkun’s Uthando centre in Johannesburg, who experienced and participated in the Legitimate Leadership application there.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q (IAN MUNRO): What was Afrika Tikkun like before the Legitimate Leadership application and what triggered you to adopt Legitimate Leadership in your organization?
LUBNER: The organization had grown very quickly. Then we changed our primary focus from ad hoc programmes to an integrated cradle-to-career approach. But while we at head office had a clear understanding of what we wanted to achieve we had not communicated it well to the people who were to be responsible for implementation. A lot of information was lost in interpretation. That created confusion and a growing rift between head office and the operating sites.
Secondly, the board came from the commercial world and didn’t necessarily understand the change processes that would be required in a developmental organization where you have to turn the pyramid of responsibility on its head and realize that the people at the coalface are your most important assets – not the size of your balance sheet or the people at head office.
Thirdly, innovation was not coming from the sites themselves. I had anticipated that people in the township environments, in those communities, would be pushing management to bring about various programmes to bring about change. But we were sorely lacking in that innovation.
Fourthly, in 2013 I personally was exhausted and burnt out. I was recommended to meet this extraordinary woman Leonie van Tonder who would turn out to be the genie in the bottle that would provide the solutions. Leonie had come from a corporate background but had a deep understanding of how to make people feel valued and respected. I told her I needed a new culture within the organization which would most importantly make people feel that they really mattered – not just the work that they did, but that they themselves really mattered.
Leonie made her employment in Afrika Tikkun conditional on us supporting her with implementation of Legitimate Leadership in the organization and we’ve never looked back.
What Legitimate Leadership brought as a starting point was the sense that if you’re going to care for people you’ve got to do so responsibly.
Q: Based on your experience at Africa Tikkun and elsewhere what advice would you give to someone thinking a Legitimate Leadership implementation?
VAN TONDER: One of the first things is to look at is the structure of the organization. If there is no clarity in the structure it is difficult for people to understand who they take their orders from. One must be quite stringent about the line of command.
Secondly, getting buy-in from senior management is critical. When we started with Legitimate Leadership we started with the senior management, then we did the layers below. And it is extremely important to never forget the non-managerial people because you cannot institute a change in your culture as well as in your management processes and activities if they do not understand.
Nice about the Legitimate Leadership is that the development is in the managerial groups but there are also programmes that go right down to the real people in the organization – for them to understand why they are there and to appreciate the unique contribution that each person makes to any organization.
Q: You talk about contribution, but this is an NGO (non-profit). Surely everyone who works in Afrika Tikkun naturally a fantastic person who wants to make a contribution? So surely this is much easier to do in Afrika Tikkun than in for instance a bank?
VAN TONDER: You might think so but in fact when you care for other people you need to put it in context. Care is not a bunny-hugging process; it has responsibility and accountabilities. It is not easier or more difficult to do it in an NGO than it is in a commercial company. People need to understand the responsibilities and accountabilities that go with caring.
Q: In some ways the profit motive almost makes it easier I think because people are less confused about what they are expected to do and what the purpose is. I think it was sometimes difficult for people to come to terms with the contribution that the centre heads had to make – not on the children directly but indirectly through the other leaders. How did you experience the shift on the ground and what do you think has made that shift stick for the past seven years?
BELINDA: Legitimate Leadership has grown me as a leader and I recommend it to every organization. When Legitimate Leadership was introduced it was confusing because the organization was then focusing on results. Contribution was something that we did not really understand. The vision was not very clear and we were just looking for numbers. But when Legitimate Leadership was applied I got to understand that care was the most important thing, and attention. I had to take care and grow my people, and the results would just come. For us to accept that was a bit challenging. But as Leonie said you need to start from management. When management accepted Legitimate Leadership and transitioned into implementing what we had learned we went through 10 months of one-day-a-month coaching that discussed issues that were real in the organization. For people to believe in this, as a leader I had to walk the talk, I had to watch the game, I had to let everyone in my team know my intent so that I could hold people accountable – be it praising them or censuring them. And making sure that everyone in the organization was on the same page – from the cleaner whose job is very important to the cook and gardener. This made things easier because the language of the organizations changed immediately – when you praised someone they would say that is care and growth, but when I censured a manager she thanked me and said that is care and growth.
Consistency is very important. Since we started this process, every year we come back and share our experiences.
Q: What do you mean by ‘caring responsibly’ and what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in making the shift to Legitimate Leadership. How does one shift from focusing on results to focusing on the things that produce the results?
BELINDA: I did one-on-one sessions which were well planned, not just in the air but in the diary. I gave them the responsibility, they owned the meetings, they directed the meetings. If they had to talk about their personal issues, I had to listen to them. Many times someone would come into work late or something would happen and we would not know them as a person because we had just needed them to produce. When I started having those one-on-ones and actually incrementally suspending control, making them take decisions (whether I loved the decisions or not), letting them run their various departments, the shift was so clear that I could actually take a holiday and not worry about the centre.
Q: Yes other people have said that they will know an implementation is successful if they can go on holiday. Marc, you have said when you control people you perpetuate dependency. What do you mean when you say you should not perpetuate dependency but rather empower?
LUBNER: The world of charity was built on people who had who wanted to give to people who didn’t have. So there was almost an assumption that the giver was somewhat superior to the receiver. That kind of mindset, I am pleased to say, is becoming archaic because it perpetuates dependency – ‘I will feed you today and then tomorrow I’m still responsible for feeding you, I haven’t taught you to feed yourself’. So the philosophy within Afrika Tikkun is ‘responsible kindness’. Obviously if you’re going to be in service of others you have to be kind in nature, your objective is to be kind – but you need to do so in a manner that is responsible, to break that dependency cycle. And that’s not just necessarily between an organization and its beneficiaries, but within the organization itself.
One has to accept that the people that are working with you in the organization have insight and skills and became involved in this field because that is what they really wanted to do. So it’s no good just taking people and putting them into predefined jobs whose results are measured on the prescribed outcomes. You have to recognize that these individuals are putting their hearts and souls into the work and build systems that enable them to be able to speak their minds and innovate. And you must encourage and incentivize that kind of behaviour rather than just putting people into process flows.
Q: One of the analogies we use is that if you want to have a beautiful garden you not only need to plant a beautiful garden but you also need to tend that garden for it to stay beautiful. What has been required from the leadership in order to sustain?
LUBNER: Like anything in life that’s worthwhile, you have to work at it. Legitimate Leadership requires a commitment to constant, rigorous improvement. Leadership in the organization cannot simply sit back and say ‘oh well great, now my staff are empowered’. If anything it changes the role of the leader in the organization to become even more visionary, more strategic. Your responsibility to your team becomes even greater because people are now doing what they’re saying they’re going to do and therefore they have expectations of you to be able to also fulfil your role. There is an absolute necessity for commitment to constantly reviewing this process and refreshing it and not allowing it to lapse. This isn’t a one-hour fitness video experience, this is something you have to learn to live, and the more you live it the more it becomes real in every element – from HR to leadership disciplines to the talk within the organization. The nature of the talk has changed around those water coolers – we now talk Legitimate Leadership lingo and have a deep sense, understanding and commitment to what that really means. So it requires a rigorous commitment to an ongoing structured process and an adoption of a number of informal procedures within the organization.
Q: Is this something that you can outsource?
LUBNER: You can outsource the teachings but your own in-house trainers have to be trained and then they themselves train others – so all our general managers become teachers in their own right and train others. So it really is a process that infuses throughout the organization. You cannot buy a video or employ someone for one day a month. You have to recognize that what you’re doing is injecting this throughout the entire body of the organization. But you also have to rely on experts like Legitimate Leadership to help advise on changes that are taking place because it’s dynamic. So I don’t think it’s something you can do internally on your own without guidance and equally it is not something you can just delegate to a third parties.
Q Leonie, you’ve been involved in successful implementations of Legitimate Leadership in different organizations. What were the particular challenges in Africa Tikkun and how were they overcome?
VAN TONDER: As an NGO the first challenge was money and the second was time. The third in Africa Tikkun was logistics.
Marc initially found us some money to do this and going forward through the years there have been special donations made for this purpose.
Regarding time, one must obviously always take people’s time into consideration because there are children and beneficiaries that normally demand their time and need to be attended to. So the organization of time was important.
If then in an organization where you have different branches, like a bank has different branches, one of the best things that we did was to select the people that attended the workshops from different centres and brought them together at a central venue. For the first time people got to know their colleagues doing the same kind of work at other centres. Just bringing the people together for that purpose made a huge difference in the organization because people suddenly started to get to know their colleagues from elsewhere and saw that they all had the same kind of challenges in the organization.
Q: What kind of coaching did you do with people in the organization – was it external, internal or you sitting with others?
VAN TONDER: The coaching was specifically around the application modules of Legitimate Leadership that point to specific aspects of the work – things like the true meaning of performance management and empowerment. When we did theoretical days or half-days for the modules they got homework and had to go and practice this in the centres. Then before the next session we sat with them and they shared their experiences, learning from peers – the one person would have a better way of solving a problem than another. And where there were specific problems obviously I stepped in.
Q Did you have any managers that didn’t see themselves as leaders? I’ve come across people who’ve said ‘I’m a manager and my job is to deliver results and frankly I don’t care about people and I don’t care about you and your programme either’.
VAN TONDER: Yes we do. We give the person the best opportunity and best guidance that we can and then at a stage we decide that this is not working and have a good conversation and redeploy the person somewhere else where they would be better suited, maybe with lower rank but where they are responsible for functions and not for people directly. This is not a hospital pass (exempting them), which one should never do.
LUBNER: The organization was always driven by values of the original founders – the legendary Chief Rabbi Harris and my father Bertie Lubner (both late). So it wasn’t too difficult when we started to implement a values-driven cultural programme.
Rather than creating fear and trepidation the Legitimate Leadership system and the way it was implemented made it uncomfortable for certain individuals who realised that this wasn’t the environment they wanted to be in – because we said the cultural shift is non-negotiable. Legitimate Leadership was not a carrot or stick approach but a way of following values from people around you. You would either subscribe to those values or it would become obvious that you weren’t going to fit. In fact people left – a proper discussion was held and people moved on either into another post where they weren’t in leadership positions or out of the organization completely. What really impressed me was the remarkable capacity that the management team had to embrace and support one another. If there’s one take-home for me it is how the management team worked together, bringing their various different strengths and relative weaknesses to support one another and create this really magnificent team of individuals capable of achieving so much.
Q: I have seen many leaders over the years who want to have their cake and eat it – they want to be values- and principles-driven but they also just can’t bring themselves to give up on the short-term results. And it becomes fundamentally disabling because people see that as insincere. You can’t claim to be values-driven, then at the same time, when push comes to shove, you don’t act in a values-driven way. I think it’s hard for leaders to make that kind of sacrifice – but in the long run it’s not even a sacrifice … right?
LUBNER: I thought I was this caring loving all-embracing wonderful human being, supportive of my staff. Then when I looked at the low percentage of staff who were engaged (before Legitimate Leadership), and I had Leonie, this tough-talking no-nonsense individual who was going to take over the role of chief operating officer and implement Legitimate Leadership, I had to swallow hard. I thought I would alienate everybody by bringing this style of leadership in. In fact quite the reverse happened because I and my role were more clearly defined through the Legitimate Leadership process and each individual understood how he or she mattered and the values that we were instituting in the organization. If anything, everyone had a greater sense of security because they knew which direction they were going and how they fitted into the overall puzzle. Equally they knew where my role’s boundaries were so they didn’t think ‘because Marc is the CEO he can just do anything and everything he wants’. Protocols were implemented which were good for me and good for the organization and brought a far better sense of trust between us, which is a very important ingredient in running any organization.
Q: Regarding the lockdown, Nehwoh, as a general manager, how did you make the big shift and what role did Legitimate Leadership play in you making this shift?
BELINDA: St Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach the gospel; if necessary use words’. I try and live by that in applying the Legitimate Leadership principles. Sometimes they’re not easy to do but I try and remind myself. So one of the things I do is respect and support staff members and listen to them. I do not promise something or ask for an opinion from a staff member or from the management team that I will not follow up on. And I’ve learned how to give feedback and not mix it – so if someone does something well I will not in the same feedback conversation give praise and censure.
When the lockdown came everyone understood what contribution means and so when management decided within a week to distribute food parcels each centre management had to manage themselves in a way that spoke to their community because we knew that people wanted food parcels but we still had to do distribution in a way that was dignified. So I called staff members and told them this was the decision and we put people in different groups – people to cook, to distribute, etc. But the culture of the organization says we communicate with each other in the process of checking in with the team. Because we had built a relationship where people openly hold us managers to account, they now said ‘we know we are doing this work and we are happy doing it, but we feel we were not consulted’. And I had to say ‘it was a crisis and in times of crisis, management has to make certain decisions’. So everyone came in and contributed. People don’t look at job descriptions at Africa Tikkun – they’ve moved away from that; they make sure that we serve the communities.
Q: Was this enabled by having a different approach? Could you not have just said to people ‘this is what we’re going to do’ and they must listen because you know you have people who want to make contribution?
BELINDA: No, the fact that we had to understand the true meaning of care played a great role. Without it I think we would have just been dictating and we wouldn’t have got the feedback that we got. Then people would not give it their all and would find excuses not to do the work. It was Covid 19, it was a pandemic, everyone was scared. Many people could have taken take sick leave but they did not because they really wanted to contribute – and this had been paved by the care and growth that we have in the organization. Without Legitimate Leadership it would have just been people struggling to claim UIF (government income subsidisation) and not actually giving of themselves
Q: Yes, in many organizations I know the conversation became about UIF and TERS etc (government subsidies), not about how can we contribute. There are whole sectors of our society where people just left their posts in a crisis and focused on claiming these things, but that didn’t happen in Africa Tikkun.
LUBNER: This wasn’t just people being asked to be doing different jobs, they were being asked to go into an environment where all the rules of the pandemic – social distancing, stay at home, etc – were being turned on their head. They were going into community environments where they were swarmed by people for whom food was a priority. And these were not staff members who were anticipating overtime payments though the hours they worked were well in excess of that which they were contracted for. Legitimate Leadership helped us swing from a structured day-to-day regime to this new set of crisis interventions because there was trust. Before the crisis trust had been developed between management and staff at all levels. There was this spirit. Nehwoh said that at her level decisions were taken because there was a crisis and she conveyed those decisions, but she was still sensitive to the fact that there hadn’t necessarily been a proper caucus. In times of crisis you have to take decisions and you have to be surrounded by people who trust that you’ve taken the right decisions and support that. That’s why it’s so important that you can’t just intervene with Legitimate Leadership as a once-off or a once-a-year initiative, you’ve got to constantly refresh it. It’s got to be a way of life so when crisis times do strike you have the trust of all people – like teachers who become packers or delivery staff, taking risks in going out. Over 100,000 free monthly food parcels were delivered because there was a culture within the organization which had been engendered over seven years. It’s a great way to be able to live, to work in an environment where you’re surrounded by people who trust you and equally you trust them in return. I think people underestimate the enormous power of trust and the fact that you don’t turn trust on by paying for it – you have to live it over time
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Miles Crisp, CEO of Tarsus Technology Group of South Africa, said his group has been working on its leadership structure for six years.
“Six years ago, we started a complete overhaul of the organisation. We adopted a legitimate leadership framework and did workshops across the entire organisation for about 18 months. They were about what intent we wanted. Accountability was also important – we involved people in the whole framework around means, ability and accountability.
“You never really know in a measurable way how this is impacting. Over the period we gradually reduced numbers in the organisation and became more focused in what we do. We became a much leaner organisation.
“Then Covid came. We made a decision 10 days before South Africa entered full lockdown in March 2020 to move a large number of our people to work at home.
“We moved 450 people off-site in three days (we have since decided to move them off-site permanently).
“You don’t know whether they have the means. Some people didn’t have computers. Some people couldn’t afford data, etc.
“It’s impossible to control the situation, you have to stand by. The anxiety I personally experienced was that I didn’t feel I was doing enough. I wasn’t busy enough. So it was the ultimate in surrender to other leaders in the organisation.
“You are subject to the ingenuity of your people, even down to quite junior people, who have to figure out for themselves what they have to do in the situation.
“That’s when I realised it could not have been done if we had not been deliberately working on trust and on holding people accountable to trust their subordinates. In a hierarchy, trust must come from the top down – you have to give the trust first before you can expect it.
“We had been doing this for six years, and holding people to account. Training is not only about equipment and technical capability. If you are not trusted, you are not empowered.
“As a leader there was so much going on and so many moving parts, not just technically but also knowing where everyone was at, and policy-wise.
“For instance what policy do you have around working hours and sick leave and other types of leave? Some people were sent home but they were not capable of working from home. You can’t send a forklift driver home because there is nothing to forklift there. Do we put them on half pay or on leave?
“There are all these little decisions. And in the finance department, suddenly we were confronted with an audit. That department was working 18 hours a day.
“We found that because we had trust, we instantly agreed on things. For instance that people should all be paid as normal, noone should be forced to take leave, everything would be kept as close to normal as possible. We instantly created ‘Covid leave’ because we didn’t want people who had to come to the premises (some people still come to the premises) to be afraid to take leave if they felt sick.
“So I started by simply watching my teams doing it, not seeing the bedlam – and it was not bedlam.
“Then, with the lockdown, there would be no sales for a whole month.
“Our turnover is about half a billion rand a month and we have to finance the stock arriving at the ports. The ship is on its way, it has to be paid for.
“But, seeing yourself as a project, you must not panic: you have to understand what the priorities are, the big issues, what can sink you. In our case it was the bank. They decided that they would not increase our financing facility. And because of the rapid deterioration in the rand currency in the period, we had to pay R390 million more than we ordered, which came right out of our cash flow.
“This could generate panic in anyone. I realised my main job was to be calm, understand the different moving parts, ask the right questions, and then stand in absolute awe at the power unleashed by over 700 people. With not one complaint from them … it was just extraordinary.
“Then I realised that all our prior work in building trust was coming to fruition.
“So we, the small exco, and our small communications team, sat down and started communicating to everyone, and cascading the communication at different levels.
“We battled with connectivity and realised we had to use every means of communication. We used videos and Zoom sessions and SMSs and emails.
“We realised we had to share a lot of information, the bad and the good news.
“And I started communicating personally. I have saved my emails from that time, including the ‘thank you’ emails and emails from people I didn’t know asking how I was doing personally. In fact, I was doing fine.
“We had the unsold stock piled up in Durban port. Then our biggest customer was allowed to re-open a month later, on 1 May. They wanted to get stock straight into their shops so that they could start selling straight away.
“So we had to get the stock through shippers and through customs. We changed shippers halfway through. The logistics coordination to move R700 million of goods in two weeks was amazing to see – for the collaboration with the suppliers, shipping companies, trucking companies, our customers. The solving of the crises that we had, the trust that we had.
“We had bought the computers when the rand was at 14 to the dollar and we now had to pay for them when the rand was at 19 to the dollar. How to deal with that? This could have sunk us.
“I couldn’t make all the decisions, there were too many! But I used to go to my team and ask, ‘Can’t you give me more work?’
“Our communication was successful and we let our people do their work!
“Sadly we had to retrench 100 people, which our very small HR team did.
“Other than the retrenchments, all this was a very gratifying experience in which we improved as an organisation and now know our strengths and weaknesses much better. We are in better shape now than we were before.
“We had worked hard on our levels of trust with our suppliers. But there was one supplier who we didn’t experience a high level of trust with: our bank. They tried to micromanage us, they wanted a list of our disbursements every day. At one point they stopped paying our suppliers without telling us even though we were hundreds of millions within our financing facility with them. Some faceless person had applied a policy notice to us which shouldn’t have been applied.
“With our huge multinational suppliers, if you miss a payment, all kinds of adverse consequences are triggered mechanically.
“I was on the phone to director-level people at the bank at 9PM in the evening. In all of our relationships with suppliers, if there were problems, we shared information, the good and the bad. Generally, years of building trust with customers and suppliers is what saved the day.
“Now I had to focus on this one relationship – this one relationship without trust consumed 80% of my time. A wise non-executive director said we must calmly work on restoring the trust. We sat with the bank officials and said, ‘You can get this information, not that; and do you want to run the company or will you let us run the company?’
“Once I had put my emotions aside and discovered what their problem was on a human level, it became better. We discovered that the bank officials were sitting in credit meetings for 18 hours a day to limit their losses; they were in panic about many customers. When I realised this, we could put our differences aside and rebuild trust.
“In this I experienced the idea of making yourself the project. When I got angry with the bank, I had to deliberately say, ‘This is not going to help … stop being angry’. When I understood what was driving them, what the issue was, I was able to ask, ‘How can I help you?’ That resulted in automating daily reports which were pumped through to them, reducing the anxiety and rebuilding the trust.
“If I had focused on righteous indignation about the injustice being done to us, I wouldn’t have done anyone any favours.
“I tried every day to get one hour of exercise (though in the beginning I felt like a schoolboy playing truant). If you are going to be sustainably available to your people, and not get sick, you need to take exercise or relax. Make sure you are getting me-time. We are encouraging all of our people to do that. Our biggest potential problem is burnout and overwork with everyone working day and night for the survival of the company.
“Also, ask: ‘Are you making yourself the project?’”
Q: What about managing performance and output in this crisis period?
A: “With people working remotely and on their own, what has become so transparent is just who is contributing and who is not. When everyone is milling around in an office of 400 people, you see them sitting at their desks and they look busy. Now suddenly the outputs are there or they are not. Now you are hearing directly from customers about the outputs of individuals. In this remote environment, we have spent more time on indicators. But we realised that we were spending too much time on dashboards which reflected yesterday’s output; we were not spending enough time on dashboards which allowed us to focus on what we were going to do in the future. It’s not monitoring whether people stay until 5PM any more.”
Q: How did you manage the flow of information into the organisation?
A: “We have a small dedicated team doing that. This has always been a focus of ours. Because of the legitimate leadership-based induction of new people, for instance, we have always examined what we communicated, and we conducted wall-to-wall ethics workshops, for instance.
“At the top level we talked about communications all the time. In the beginning I relied a lot on emails. I sent emails with personal notes around what we were doing.
“It was a matter of getting personal communication going. And we had some lightness: we had people wearing funny hats and introducing their family members and their dogs.
“My family was lucky to have the arrival of a grandchild on during this lockdown; I put a note in some of the emails to the staff on this. There was banter and congratulations coming back from staff members I had had no personal relationship with previously. I responded to every single email with personal notes. I’ve had so many more people create direct communication with me at their initiative, regardless of their rank.
“But I make a point of never taking a decision for a manager in the organisation, to not undermine them.”
Q: What do you see as the next biggest big leadership challenge?
A: When you are in a crisis you have to trust that people remember what the purpose of the organisation is. In a crisis you do not engage in any formal induction programme showing mission, strategy, etc. But it’s important to come back to all of this afterwards; it’s important then to go back and re-examine the purpose of the organisation and make sure that people understand what their piece of the purpose is.
“In the crisis, your purpose is just to survive, but you put a time limit on this. After that time limit, go back to rebuilding the business, re-examining and refocusing the people.
“I like the Legitimate Leadership concept of inversion of means and ends. The end is a more complete person. The organisation and its tasks are the means to develop and bring people on board. We have not lost sight of that.”
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This report and the next report (respectively on the Concept and Practice of leading in crisis in organisations) are from a Legitimate Leadership webinar held on 30 July 2020. The presenters were Wendy Lambourne of Legitimate Leadership (this report) and Miles Crisp of Tarsus Technology Group of South Africa (next report). Ian Munro of Legitimate Leadership was the moderator. The webinar had 99 attendees.
In a crisis the chickens come home to roost: people rally or scatter.
What people choose to do is a function of the intent of their leadership: if historically leadership has been in the relationship with those they lead to give, those people in turn will, in a crisis, come to the fore and do whatever they can for the survival of the organisation. If the leadership has been there to take, the opposite will occur: they will do little if anything and maybe they will jump ship.
What leaders do in a crisis may be forgiven but it will not be forgotten. Leaders come under increased scrutiny from their people. A crisis creates lingering memories.
This throws up two possibilities:
• Irretrievable breakdown in trust in relationships, which will never be the same again.
• The leaders capture the hearts and minds of their people as never before.
If you Google the characteristics required for leadership in a crisis, you will get a list so long you might as well give up in advance.
But Legitimate Leadership believes there are only two essential characteristics required: compassion and courage, in that order. Leaders who are revered in a crisis have the combination of a soft and brave heart.
And these qualities are a matter of choice, a matter of the will. If you don’t display these qualities you have no one to blame but yourself.
People only trust others who care about them. In this Covid crisis this care for people has been brought into sharp focus.
But more than care for people’s physical and material needs is required in a crisis.
There are essentially three care “gives” as a leader in a crisis:
Legitimate Leadership believes that most of the leaders in our client companies are passing the care test with flying colours.
But our experience is that the leaders are not passing the growth test. People are looking to those leaders to save them in the crisis, and the leaders are doing just that. We think that is not the right thing to do. Leaders must rather deliberately empower, not control, people in a crisis.
Yes, leaders should continue to set policy and strategy. But they should push all other decisions down the line. This means increasing people’s responsibilities so that leaders resist the temptation to “do”; rather empower managers to empower their people. Increase people’s responsibilities so that you can accelerate their growth in the crisis. And once the crisis is over, resist taking back authority, and resist re-imposing the controls removed in the crisis. And continue making decisions with limited information, as leaders did in the crisis.
First and foremost, leaders must look at themselves in a crisis. Look at who you are as a leader – because who you are as the CEO, for instance, is reflected in the organisation. So leaders should make themselves the project.
In a crisis a leader’s intent is revealed; the crisis also provides a golden opportunity for leaders to polish their intent and set the example for others to follow. In a crisis the leader grows more than anyone else.
Q: Are all the different types of trust correlated? Can you have the trust of your employees but no trust with your suppliers or customers?
A: How the other party perceives your intent determines how they respond to you. This is true in any relationship. For instance, I know that Legitimate Leadership will go above and beyond in every way we can for the clients who stayed with us through the Covid crisis. It doesn’t matter what the relationship is, if the intent in the relationship is to give, the natural instinctive reaction of the other party is to give in return.
TO VIEW THE VIDEO OF THIS WEBINAR CLICK HERE
Jimmy Furstenberg’s first job was as a labour relations officer in what is today Bridgestone Firestone South Africa. At the time, the 1980s, the labour relations environment in South Africa was a virtual war zone because the workplace was the only legal arena for the expression of black aspirations during apartheid. Then Bridgestone International bought Firestone International. A condition of the deal was that Firestone International’s Port Elizabeth factory would be closed if it wasn’t turned around within six months.
Appointed as manufacturing director, Jimmy led the turnaround process, applying legitimate leadership principles.
Jimmy recalls that at the start of the turnaround process, “My MD, Steve Shiller, and I did a trip around the world to benchmark our factory against similar factories. The Port Elizabeth factory had been built in 1938 as part of the World War II effort, so it was an old dog and there was a lot we had to do. We were in a lift in Rome and Steve and I said to each that we would fix the factory no matter what we needed to do. We shook hands on it. We resolved that because it was the right thing to do.
“In December 1994 we faced Irvin Jim (general secretary of NUMSA union and probably South Africa’s most militant union leader then and today – editor). Jim wagged his finger at me and said he would see to it that no people would lose their jobs and that there would be no change. But Steve and I had agreed that there would be change no matter what, so we took on NUMSA. You could call it courageous or foolhardy, but we did it because it was the right thing to do.
“That is the most important thing – somehow it’s easier being courageous when you are driven by a purpose.
“The end result was that we turned around that factory despite a major strike. Six months later the factory had improved productivity by 60%. To this day – the factory is still operating – NUMSA does not know that it was set up for a strike. We kept thousands of people in employment, which was the just cause. Courage is not easy but it becomes easier when you are driven by the right cause, the right contribution.
“Courage will emerge where a courageous environment has been created. When organisations look to cultivate it, it is mostly about leaders rather than non-leaders. In my experience, it is not the employees who will become courageous , its about leaders who have to change, then employees will change. You will find individual flickers of employees being courageous, but mainly it comes down to the leaders.
“I don’t rate myself as a courageous person but when I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to make decisions I have made them on the basis of what I think comes down to:
“One definition I read of leadership is that it is the most difficult 18-inch journey you will find between your head and your heart. When you make a courageous decision it must come from the heart because if it doesn’t you’re not going to feel the pain of it; it’s not going to drive you enough to be able to do what you have got to do.”
“Legitimate leadership says that 70% of problems in leadership in organisations is a result of means issues (leaders and managers not providing the environment and the tools, resources, enabling systems, processes, time, decision-making authority and information, etc). Managers and leaders provide the means, so managers and leaders are actually the project. They must admit that they are the project. So though managers and leaders must be confident, they must also be humble enough to admit this.
“What is the relationship between courage and trust? Courage is about taking a risk. You don’t know what the result will be. But you have to have some trust that if you act courageously and do the right thing for a just reason there will be a positive result. If you are fundamentally mistrustful of the outcome, if you believe that the result will always be bad, it is much harder to have courage.
“It not easy – if it was easy, it would not require courage. The risk that you face when you have to act with courage is always immediate. Rising above it is what makes it courageous. But you do need some trust that it’s going to turn out all right.”
Said Joshua Hayman in the webinar, about another example of courage: “When a particular manager was recruited at a time when he had a young family, he accepted the job on the basis of an undertaking that it would not involve international travel. But the management of the company changed thereafter and the new CEO insisted that he would have to travel internationally. The new hire asked the manager who had made the original undertaking to him, to tell the disciplinary committee about that undertaking. The manager who had made the undertaking told the disciplinary committee despite having been advised that if he did he might lose his job. This manager took the risk because he fundamentally felt that the stance being taken by the new CEO was not fair – but if the CEO insisted on it, this was not the kind of organisation he wanted to work for.”
Said Ian Munro in the webinar: “Courage doesn’t develop if it is not required. For instance organisations often do anonymous surveys. These prioritise accuracy and correctness over asking people to be courageous. There are downsides to anonymity. It’s important for organisations to think about whether something needs to be anonymous or whether they should ask people to be courageous.
“The issue of courage also arises in performance appraisal systems. The more we systematic we can make them, the less courageous we have to be in providing feedback etc. We use systems to remove the need for courage – it is so easy then to say ‘it’s not me but the process’. In fact that is acting with cowardice.”
How do you help leaders, and the people they lead, to develop courage?
Said Joshua: “Walk the talk. Demonstrate the courage yourself. Which means holding people to account, handling conflict, taking risks, showing your own integrity and moral strength. Courage can be developed but it comes back to what is in your heart – your own belief in yourself and your cause.
“Developing courage within an individual is quite practical. The individual may not feel courageous but a start is to get her thinking about the issue of courage and what it takes. Ask the person to think of an instance in her history in which she felt that she acted with courage. How did she feel, what was the worst outcome and what was the best outcome? And think of opposite situations – in which she should have acted with courage but did nothing or did the opposite. How did that feel and what were the outcomes, positive and negative.
“This thinking allows people to connect with their own notions of courage.
“You can also identify opportunities in that person’s job for acting with courage, and find a place for her to start. Don’t do the biggest thing first – challenge her but do not paralyse her with fear. It helps if you can engineer a situation in which the person has some success. Courage is not encouraged if the person’s head gets chopped off on the first attempt.
“And there is rehearsal and practice. If there is a conversation a person needs to have with a manager or a subordinate, what will he say, how will he say it, what does he want to put across? Rehearsal gives the person some encouragement.
“The starting point is an admission by the person that he grapples with courage and needs help. It requires a plan of action practical. The helper needs to know the person to be encouraged and what will paralyse him and what will do the opposite.
“Organisations typically don’t make it plain that courage is what they want from their people. So the simplest thing to do is emphasize the display of courage as a behaviour standard and give practical examples of what that means in context. Ask for it, and reward it. And don’t tolerate the opposite of it – take a firm line on cowardice.”
When does courage become foolhardiness? Said Jimmy: “Courage is not about making instantaneous decisions necessarily. It’s about a considered view of the situation particularly in organisations. Some people might be impetuous and their actions might appear courageous but everybody knows its stupidity.
“Don’t lose sight of the purpose for which you are acting. Whose interests am I doing this in? If it is theirs, is it actually the right thing to do? It comes back to the ‘why’ and the purpose.”
TO VIEW THE VIDEO OF THIS WEBINAR CLICK HERE
Although this webinar is about Legitimate Leadership’s view of courage in organisations we start by referring to the bestselling book by Adam Grant, Give and Take. Grant explored which of two strategies in organisations would tend to be more successful, drawing on research from across the United States.
One conclusion he drew was that some of the most successful people in organisations are givers. We at Legitimate Leadership were pleased because this conclusion is very supportive of our framework.
But there was a fly in the ointment: Grant also concluded that some of the least successful people in organisations were givers.
What then accounts for why some givers are successful and others are not successful? Grant concluded that the answer had a lot to do with the choices that givers made about who to give to or what to give. We agree with this conclusion – we believe the givers of generosity who are less successful find it difficult to make choices about what kind of generosity is appropriate in situations that they face.
But we believe that Grant did not ask the essential question – namely, what the appropriate give is in a particular situation. Grant’s book talked only about generosity, but we say there are two kinds of giving. One of them absolutely is generosity; but the other is courage.
Both generosity and courage require you to put your own interests in the back seat and put the interests of other in the front seat. But what you have to put in the back seat differs between the two.
Generosity involves being generous with things like our time, support, empathy, knowledge and experience.
Courage on the other hand typically requires a far higher price because then we put ourselves at risk.
Giving courageously is, in our view, first and foremost a matter of willingness. It is not about competence, skill or knowledge. It is largely about whether or not people have the resolve and the will to do so.
Courage is not about the absence of fear. Courage is about feeling fear in a situation but nevertheless facing the fear and acting despite it – doing what is right or what is appropriate.
We feel afraid or uncomfortable in these situations because of physical pain, uncertainty, intimidation or the risk of material or non-material loss. When courage is involved there is always a real risk of losing something valuable of ourselves. Courage is what is required in order to overcome that fear.
There is also, in our view, a connection between maturity and courage. As we mature we develop our capacity for suspending our self-interest – in other words, what we’re here to get or to take. We develop an increasing capacity for focusing on or acting in the interests of others. As we mature we develop or grow our capacity for giving unconditionally and we also therefore grow our capacity for giving courageously.
And there is not a link between chronological age and maturity. Rather, maturation is largely a matter of the will – a matter of choosing to set aside self-interest and act in the interests of the other.
Organisations are typically not good at courage for various reasons:
There are four organisational-environments-and-individual-courage possibilities:
This all starts not so much with focusing on the organisation’s environment and systems, but with people. Legitimate Leadership’s view is that when you cultivate enough people to act with courage, they will eventually create an environment that’s conducive to courage.
So when Legitimate Leadership works with organisations on this issue it places the focus on cultivating courageous individuals – enabling people to make the shift in intent and in motive in order to enable them to rise above a fear of loss and to act with courage when appropriate.
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From left to right: Masenyane Molefe (Hyundai SA), Wendy Lambourne (Legitimate Leadership) and Bradley Salters (Imperial Group).Report-Back on Legitimate Leadership’s ‘Leading in Times of Adversity’ Breakfast
Legitimate Leadership’s first breakfast event of 2017, on the subject ‘Leading in Times of Adversity’, took place in Johannesburg on 15 March. Executives from two organisations, Hyundai Automotive South Africa (Hyundai SA) and Jurgens Ci, shared their experiences of how they responded to the difficult circumstances they faced.
The types of adversity that the two companies faced were different. Jurgens Ci was confronted with significant conflict in management-employee relationships, a factory which burnt down, and a decline in sales which necessitated a 10% reduction in employee numbers.
In Hyundai SA’s case, the company was faced with the year-on-year decline in new car sales, an exchange rate not in its favour, fierce competition in an industry where all vehicles are of high quality, and a negative organisational culture.
There is a natural tendency in difficult conditions to cut spending and batten down the hatches, but both Hyundai SA and Jurgens Ci elected to do the opposite.
They chose to rather invest in their people and to use the Legitimate Leadership framework as an enabler to change management-employee relationships, build trust in the leadership of the enterprise, develop leaders’ ability to lead, and engage employees’ willingness to go above-and-beyond in the pursuit of the organisations’ objectives.
As a result, Jurgens Ci was able to get back the trust relationship with its staff and engender a “how do we fix this?” mindset rather than an attitude of “what’s in this for me?” The conclusion of Bradley Salters, Jurgens Ci’s managing director, was twofold: firstly, that it is much easier to cope with difficult times when you have a workforce which is engaged and on your side; secondly, to get where you want to go, you have to help others to get where they are going.
In the words of Masenyane Molefi, human resources director of Hyundai SA, “culture beats strategy for breakfast but real culture change takes 3-5 years”.
After 18 months of a project with Legitimate Leadership, Hyundai SA has some pockets of excellence but has still to achieve a critical mass of leaders who can solicit the willingness of their people to truly go the extra mile. Hyundai SA is currently measuring the impact to date of the care and growth intervention on shifting the culture from “taking to giving” and determining how best to sustain the momentum it has gained.