C, a well-educated young manager in banking information technology (IT) – a “millennial” – found that modest input of the concepts of the Legitimate Leadership Model helped him change an immature project team into a high-performing, happy team. C has qualifications in business finance and IT, as well as an MBA. He works for a major investment bank in South Africa.
In late 2014, he was charged with putting together a team of about 14 people consisting of vendors (including business analysts, developers and internal testers) to develop “a piece of technology which would add value for the bank”.
In October 2014, a month before he started the 18-month project, he happened to attend a two-day Legitimate Leadership Introduction course conducted by Ian Munro, a director of Legitimate Leadership.
He says this two-day introduction made a stronger impression on him regarding the subject of leadership than any of the leadership material in his MBA and other qualifications.
C also read the book Legitimate Leadership, by Wendy Lambourne.
He started the 18-month project using Agile, a methodology for IT projects which focuses on building a self-organising team to develop software. As the team started and evolved, C was cognisant that the team moved through the typical Agile phases of forming, storming, norming and performing.
Of necessity, C found that he had to initially lead the project in an authoritarian style, giving specific directions.
Initially, he says, the team was “immature” and did not work well together. This was emphasised in fortnightly “retrospectives” – examinations of what outcomes had been achieved.
In the first half of 2015 he began receiving phone calls from individual team members who were unhappy. When he analysed this feedback, one person was the common factor.
This person was the lead developer of one of the vendors – what is known in IT as the “hero developer”. The term describes what such people think of themselves – they believe that they know everything.
This lead developer was somewhat older than C, in his forties. He was perceived by the vendor as good, “in fact as God”.
He was indeed very smart, knowledgeable and essentially a good person, says C. But the way he was apparently treating the team was destructive, causing angst and negatively affecting its performance. “Sometimes you need to let team dynamics run, but the negative effects here were becoming acute” says C.
By chance during this time, C had dinner with Ian Munro, who advised him that he should, in this situation, “have the tough conversation”. C describes himself as “not a confronter – more of a diplomatic person”. The age difference between him and the lead developer also made him more reticent to confront the lead developer, but he decided to do it.
After a team meeting he asked for a one-on-one with the lead developer. First he solicited information from the lead developer to understand whether he was having a problem with the team as a whole or with one individual. The problem was apparently with one individual. A major problem for the lead developer was that that individual was only occasionally physically with the team.
C told the lead developer that this kind of negative relationship was unacceptable and simply could not continue because it was poisoning the team. After the meeting C also had a meeting with the individual concerned in which he explained the lead developer’s frustration. C says ahead of both meetings, he was very nervous, but he “took courage”.
Both parties accepted what C said and undertook to change their behaviours. The “absent individual” thereafter joined the team for a few hours every morning; and the lead developer stopped gunning for him.
This proved to be a turning point for the team as a whole, and it started functioning better and more happily.
By late 2015, the team had developed to a point where the lead developer could step back and did not have to be always present. The team members stepped up to the challenge, he says; it had become a mature, high-performing team. C attributes this to his application, from the start of the project, of Legitimate Leadership principles of care and growth.
C says in bank and other corporate situations the most prevalent leadership style is “a big stick and a focus on results … you can do almost anything as long as you achieve the results.” Often this means that the agenda is really about the boss and how he/she appears to be personally achieving those results.
C says that his exposure to the Legitimate Leadership Model confirmed his rejection of the Big Stick approach.
C says he believes a team should be happy and empowered. The Legitimate Leadership approach has helped in this; so has the Agile approach, which says that if a self-organising team can execute the processes correctly and efficiently, the outcome tends to look after itself.
In early 2016, with the end of the project in sight, C asked the team what they individually wanted regarding growth and development, and whether they wanted to stay until the end of the project or jump tracks then (which was an option). All of them opted to stay with the team until the end, apparently due to the autonomy, growth and empowerment they had received to execute their respective tasks.
C however made a contrasting decision in relation to his own boss. His boss, he says, has the Big Stick approach to leadership and is very confrontational. In one confrontation, his boss asked C whether he wanted to continue working for him. C gave him a flat “no”, and he is currently looking for another post in the bank.
IF YOU HAD THE TIME AGAIN …
Would C have done anything differently in the project if he had the time again?
He says he would have confronted the lead developer earlier – he would have taken the courage to do it sooner. “Don’t let the splinter in your toe fester until it gets to the point where you need to amputate your leg,” he says.
C says he was always well aware that the Legitimate Leadership Model advocated a change from taking to giving – and that “giving” not only meant appropriate generosity, but also courage.
He says that part of giving was to see that his team was growing and developing, but the other part was the need for courage and for undertaking, for instance, tough conversations.
This became clearer after his dinner discussion with Ian Munro. “If you practice courage, it gets easier,” he says, and he is now less reticent about having tough conversations.