In the world of leadership theories there are many that approaches leadership like a chef would approach dinner: give the chef the ingredients and the recipe and he or she will produce dinner. In leadership terms, give the leader the resources (money and people) and the leadership recipe and he or she will produce profits.
Leadership Methods as an After Thought
This recipe is intended to get the resource to perform the task with the necessary enthusiasm and without complaints. It is mostly asked for as a belated afterthought, when it is discovered that employees have become inexplicably reluctant to do what they are paid to do. So in order to get around this obstacle, the recipe explains to the leader what motivates these humans to work. For example, don’t scream at them, rather ask them nicely. Or explain to them why they must perform the task, because then they will understand and be willing to comply. Or just pay them more. To use a more offending term – how employees can be manipulated to do what they must do.
The Place of Intention
If you hear the word “manipulate” the knee-jerk reaction to it is that we see it as an undesirable action. It’s purpose is the exploitation of an employee. Here at Schuitema, we have dealt with this topic extensively. The intention behind the manipulation, rather than the type of manipulation, is the key to leadership. That intention should rest with the subordinate. If the leader is pursuing self-interest, regardless of the recipe, the dinner is for the benefit of the leader only.
When we say that your intention should rest with the subordinate, we certainly do not mean that every wish of the subordinate becomes your command. Rather, we mean that your focus is to care for and grow the subordinate. And this is your focus whether the subordinate agrees with you or not. This focus becomes the foundation for all the principles that a leader applies when dealing with a subordinate.
In the modern world, an increasing number of leaders find themselves in a moral quagmire. This is because the actions leaders take to assist the employee to grow, is subject to more and more scrutiny and judgement. When is it acceptable to let a subordinate suffer in order to grow, and when is it bullying?
It was a bit easier in the past when effort and suffering was seen as an accepted price to pay for growth. Increasingly the world is reacting intensely to being offended. What was perfectly acceptable 10 years ago now seems to demand an apology. A manager told me recently how he was asked to apologise to a subordinate after rolling his eyes in response to a statement made by the subordinate. It was seen as offensive. So, the question he asked me is how do you give feedback on poor performance to an employee without offending the employee?
More and more leaders find themselves in this quagmire as the world’s moral compass is spinning round and round. The way out of this, the way to steady the compass, is to remind yourself of the underlying system of beliefs that informs the principle. The demand not to be offended is based on an underlying belief that nothing matters as much as me. That underlying belief has as a consequence a threatening world, a dark and sinister force that is out to get me, and it spins off a set of principles that has as its purpose my protection. The principle is created out of fear.
The Freedom of Belief and Trust in Leadership
What we are advocating as an underlying belief for our leadership principles is simply that it is about the subordinate, not me. That if the leader’s attention rests with the subordinate, the threats of the world suddenly becomes opportunities. Insults becomes advice. Anger becomes understanding. Arguments becomes harmony. Taking becomes giving. Selfishness becomes generosity.
Make no mistake, doing this takes courage. Deliberately moving my attention from my own protection and prosperity to my subordinate’s seems like a dangerous thing to do. And to be honest, it is. No underlying system of beliefs can promise you success or wellbeing or happiness.
If you set your path based on a perceived reward on the other side, you are already setting yourself up for failure. And whether you have an overriding belief that things will always go well or that things will go wrong – both are equally wrong.
The optimist thinks that things will work out doesn’t matter what I do. And the pessimist, that it will go wrong regardless. What we are aiming for, we call trust. This is an underlying attitude of acceptance of everything the world throws at me, is not in my control. It is blind in a sense. Because you don’t know what the future holds. However, what you know is what is in your hands to do. And you trust that, as you are looking out for someone else, someone will be looking out for you.
To stay in touch with our content, sign up for our newsletter