You may coach people to be contributors, but if the system/department/organisation they are in does not change, those people are likely to eventually revert back to what they were before.
In past Legitimate Leadership webinars, the focus was generally on leadership. In this webinar, the focus was shifted to how leaders can assist people in their teams to shift from taking to giving.
In other words, in this webinar it was assumed that the leader is performing well and that she is fundamentally giving rather than taking.
This webinar, on 11 February 2021, was presented by three Legitimate Leadership consultants: Ian Munro, Peter Jordan and Stefaan van den Heever. It was attended by 68 people from various countries.
The three presenters commented on questions arising from vignettes which were drawn from their own experiences and from questions from attendees.
An employee finds out that he is earning 5% less than his peers. He assumes immediately that the organisation and the management are unfair. This demotivates him and he considers finding another job.
COMMENT: Before, he was a net contributor – in other words, he was not withholding. Then he withdrew his willingness due to a sense of grievance and grudge. The problem is he is falling into a victim state of mind. So he is moving into dangerous territory, perhaps early in his career. Because later he will encounter other unfairnesses – life is often unfair.
So the issue is more about his mental framework than about his pay. For his own growth and maturity, he needs to get out of this mental frame as soon as possible.
The employee could complain and receive help. It is a good for a leader to help employees but it is not good to create dependency. The manager should help the person more by getting him to look at the bigger picture. And the manager should challenge him not to have a victim mindset and to focus on what he can control. Strong people focus on what they can control, not on what the world does to them.
in other words, the manager here can help the employee to restore his sense of accountability.
Does this make a difference in practice? The manager needs to enable the person to see what is happening to him in the situation. But the question is how one is going to respond to the fact that life is sometimes unfair. The manager should issue a challenge to promote growth, rather than encourage the employee to rail against the system.
Of course this implies that a degree of trust already exists between the manager and the employee. But the process itself will enhance trust.
How does one do this without seeming uncaring? The leader is tested every day in this regard. Always, she must show that she has her employees’ best interests at heart and that she cares, even though she may be being tough. It is not that she is denying the situation, but she is saying ‘rise above it’. The employee/manager may also simultaneously try to solve the unfairness issue – but don’t make it the primary focus.
Leading on from Vignette 1 above, what if the unfairness is more than just a small salary differential; what if it is a matter, for instance, of gender/race bias? Would your comment then be the same?
COMMENT: If this is a violation that the person is not willing to live with, then don’t live with it! But this is distinct from doing a good job.
Do a good job AND fight the system. A shop steward can, for instance, do a good job AND represent the workers. Keep things in perspective. Apply the same gusto in both situations.
A consultant (Ian Munro) was enlisted to assist a bank to help its employees understand and implement new legislation aimed at limiting the indebtedness of its clients. To the consultant’s surprise, in sessions with the employees he was confronted by small complaints regarding parking, the coffee, etc. Frustrated with the smallmindedness of this reaction compared the programme’s importance, the consultant lost his cool. What was going on here?
COMMENT: Firstly, the employees’ reaction was not simply because they were largely millennials. Situations like this are fairly prevalent and are sad, disenabling and irritating – not primarily because of the gripes but because the employees are not seeing the benevolent intent of the project (in this case, the contribution to the stability of the economy and of people’s budgets). Through their own efforts and through their managers’ inputs they need to know and understand this.
Often, managers tell people what to do but don’t elaborate on the Why. And it is a two-way street: if the employees do not understand the benevolent intent of the organisation or the project, they should ask. They should not join the +50% of employees who are disengaged from the true meaning of what they do.
This is likely to be a situation for application of the Gripe to Goal process. It is about challenging people to understand the Why of the project and the organisation.
They have the opportunity to help citizens become less indebted but they are focusing on the coffee.
Further, challenge them as to why our organisation exists. They may say that it is to make money but that misses the point. What is the value-add of the organisation, how is it making life better? And what is the value-add of their department? They need to know the flow of the business. Support functions are not core functions, for instance. And they need to know that it is important to avoid becoming silos.
They need to understand that there is no such thing as a menial job or a menial purpose.
Strong leaders give people a vision, something exciting to get up in the morning for.
For instance, in financial services, a financial broker, asked what his role is, might typically answer that it is to sell insurance policies. But he should rather connect with his contribution – for instance, that he is there to help his clients understand the products so that they can make informed choices and so there it is more faith in the financial services industry.
Focus on how the excellence of people’s inputs should lead to excellent results. If they fixated on the bottom line without giving 80-90% of their time to how to contribute, they would anyway jeopardise their god (the bottom line).
This applies whether the organisation is for-profit or not-for-profit. Experience is that even in charity organisations, where it might be assumed that all employees are good people who just want to contribute to the overall purpose of the organisation, this is not in fact so. Many people in those organisations care primarily about having a job; they too need to be helped to understand the Why and the vision.
40 years ago, a young, starry-eyed, newly-qualified teacher (Peter Jordan) was employed at a state school. This were no performance management systems. The line of command was simple: the headmaster was worshipped, and below him the structure was amorphous. During his first year, he (Peter Jordan) received little feedback but gained the impression that his superiors were not totally satisfied with his performance. He saw his contemporaries being given more responsibilities than himself. He immediately concluded that this was favouritism. He began to look for another job in the government gazette. At no time did he ask for feedback from anyone in the hierarchy. Eventually he moved to another school.
COMMENT: There are a few problems here. Firstly, if you don’t get feedback, how can you improve? Secondly, Peter Jordan was making a lot of assumptions (about why he was not getting feedback, about favouritism and about his colleagues), and assumptions are always dangerous. Also, he had a narrow conception of his job – that it was to teach. Providing feedback was not part of it, he apparently believed.
A problem was that he was doing nothing about the situation and that a victim mindset was developing. A good manager would challenge this person to reframe what his contribution is.
Take ownership for your career, speak up. In other words, enlarge your accountability. What can you do about the situation? What can you control, what can you contribute? Transferring to another school is not an answer because this will happen again. A good manager would help the individual to have courage.
It is a pity that he was not confronted. He had moved into a victimhood mindset. There were alternatives – he could have spoken to others. His leaders probably knew the situation he was in but they too chose not to confront it.
it is not just about what the leader can do for the team, but what everyone can do for the organisation more broadly.
There are many similar situations. In a recent situation experienced related by Stefaan van den Heever, he needed to contact a branch of an company about the details of the set-up for a seminar room. He did not have the telephone number of the branch so he phoned the company’s head office. When he explained the situation to the receptionist, she asked him to give her the details of what was required for the room so that she could convey the instructions. He later received an email confirming all the arrangements. In other words, these employees have gone above and beyond and taken ownership of the situation.