What Needs to Change in Traditional Leadership Models

The bespectacled retiree now works at Ilima Trust, a public benefit organisation in South Africa that aims to impart their collective knowledge, skills and experience to others. With the goal of improving their capacity to meet the demands of their roles, the Trust aims to enable people to achieve their purpose.

Avi’s role as Managing Associate and Trustee at Ilima Trust is cut out for him; after all, even though Avi spent much of his life in senior managerial positions, Avi’s take on leadership is to serve those below him. Contrary to traditional leadership models, where the task of the leader is to bring results, for close to fifteen years, Avi has held on to the belief that a leader’s purpose is to care for and grow his employees.

In this article, Avi sheds light on three pitfalls of traditional leadership models, and shares with us the challenging but extremely rewarding alternative of Care and Growth Leadership.

Traditional Leadership VS True Leadership

Focus on Results vs Focus on People

According to Avi, the focus of traditional leadership models is more often than not on the results, regardless of its implications on the health of the organisation and the people in it.

“The emphasis in traditional management and leadership models is always on the results. So whatever traditional leadership knowledge you’ve learned and acquired, and whatever tools you have, are all based on how you can get a subordinate to give you a result, even though it seems as if you are really committed to the individual,” said Avi.

What this means is that in the long run, it will become apparent to the people in the organisation that they are just ‘resources’ — a means — for the organisation’s management, leading to ill-will and a lack of trust between the two.

In contrast, true leadership is one where the focus of the management is on the individual in the company.

“Results are the last thing that you should be looking at as a leader. Your focus, your energy should be placed in the individual, and in fact, the result is the consequence of all of that energy you put into that individual,” explained Avi.

Avi’s understanding is based on Schuitema’s philosophy, in which a person is not a means to an end, but an end in themselves.

“When you focus on the individual in the company instead of the result, there is an honest, absolutely caring, and absorbed involvement in the life of an individual rather than always thinking: “What is it that I can get the individual to do for me?” when engaging with the person,” he elaborated.

When honest, caring, and authentic involvement happens between leaders and subordinates, goodwill and trust tend to grow. This inevitably cultivates a healthier and more productive working environment, and inevitably, better results.

Carrot and Stick Approach vs People Approach

The carrot and stick approach is a ‘hard-power’ concept, referring to a policy of offering a combination of rewards and punishments to induce behaviour, named in reference to a cart driver dangling a carrot in front of a mule and holding a stick behind it. The mule, wanting the reward of food, would move towards the carrot, and wanting  to avoid the pain of punishment, would move away from the stick behind it. This combination thus draws the cart forward.

While this seems to work, Avi thinks otherwise:

“Companies that practice the traditional model of leadership like to think that it works very well for them, but I’m not sure if it does. The old model is a carrot and stick model, but you have to remember that you are not dealing with machines and automatons; you are dealing with people with feelings. You have people who genuinely want to be acknowledged, involved, and respected, and everything else,” he explained.

In other words, Avi understands that people are not mules. Each individual in the company is unique, and is motivated by different sets of conditions. A one-size-fits-all carrot and stick approach demoralises employees, and reduces them to mindless labour for the organisation.

Leading for Profit vs Leading for Purpose

According to Avi, the distinction between leading for profit and leading for purpose makes all the difference in having a well-lived life. He shares that he is satisfied with all that he has done for others, and that he can look back at his career as a leader and know that he has touched and changed many lives with his work.

Just a week before the interview, Avi crossed paths with an individual he used to lead 7 years ago who, after the chanced meeting, wrote in to him saying: “I want to acknowledge you for having and showing your trust in me 7 years ago, and for giving me the responsibility to do what is needed.” Receiving such a note is not a rare occurrence for Avi; throughout the years, even after his retirement, he continues to receive letters of gratitude and acknowledgement for his work in empowering and enabling his subordinates.

In contrast to his experience, Avi relates the story of an acquaintance who led an organisation solely to make huge profits. He used everyone, climbed his way up because of the money he brought in, but eventually found himself standing alone at the top; everyone who worked with him did so because they were forced to, and no one would engage with him willingly, both in and outside of the office.

“If you take an easy ride to the top, you trample over a lot of individuals, and it’s not a happy place to be. I wouldn’t want to be that type of individual who gets to the top but ends up without the social reinforcement I need; we are a social being, we need to know that we’ve touched the lives of people positively.”

Is Moving Away from Traditional Leadership Worth it?

Even as Avi shared the pitfalls of traditional leadership, it became apparent that moving towards becoming a true leader that cares for and grows his employees is not an easy task, even for him.

“It is a lot more difficult to follow a process, to teach people, and to involve people. It is a lot more time-consuming and sometimes when you don’t see the results immediately in business , and you’re under pressure yourself by the people higher than you, it feels much easier to operate as per the traditional leadership models.

After all, It is easier to just follow the letter — do this, and if you don’t, I will do a disciplinary action against you. It’s a lot easier! It’s clinical, it’s technical, it’s easier to manage,” Avi elaborated.

However, despite the challenges, Avi feels the that difficulty is all part and parcel of what being a true, inspiring leader is.

“All the energy, the time, and the personal involvement I have to make and invest in is worth it. I will do it again and again! In fact, if I have to restart and do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it any other way, I can assure you. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way, and I’ve seen it in my time.”

To start leading with purpose, learn about Schuitema’s Care and Growth model of Leadership.

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