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By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership 

Legitimate Leadership was honoured to be invited to address the MBA alumni of the University of Manchester (China) and Shanghai on the evening of 15 February 2017.

The speech, given by Wendy Lambourne, director of Legitimate Leadership, is inserted below. There were 30 MBA alumni present at the event. In addition, 1,200 people listened to the talk which was broadcast live from the University of Manchester China Centre.


All organisations succeed sustainably to the degree to which their people are committed unconditionally to the objectives of the organisation. This capacity to give is only partly a function of what people HAVE or KNOW. More than anything else, it is a function of the degree to which their WILL is engaged.

That being the case, the primary task of the leadership of any enterprise is to solicit their employees’ WILLINGNESS to contribute, or go above and beyond in pursuit of the company’s objectives.

People, at the end of the day, go the extra mile for someone, not something. That someone is the person they report to directly. So the real question is “who is the person that people would work for willingly?”, who is the WANT TO boss?

Having asked people this question all over the world for the past 25 years, the answer is or has been the same. A typical list includes the following:


approachable, empathetic, fair, honest, gives me space, listens, acknowledges my contribution, experienced, kind, interested in me, gives me feedback, provides a vision, consistent, sets direction, humane, goal-directed, knowledgeable, compassionate, values driven, supportive, understanding, challenges me, trustworthy, trusts me.

And yet when you ask managers “what is leadership?”, they do not say that it is about becoming a WANT TO boss. Rather, they define leadership as getting results achieved, as getting work done through others. This is the conventional view of managers across the world.

When managers view their job in this way they see people as the means to the end of achieving a goal/result/outcome. Further to this, they only really have two options. They can use a “stick” or coercive means like their rank to get people to do something. Or they can use a “carrot” or persuasive means like sweet talk or incentives to get people to do what they need them to do.

Both sticks and carrots work in the sense that they get movement, but not willingness. People do what is asked because they HAVE TO, not because they WANT TO.

In the case of the “stick” they do what is asked to avoid the negative consequences to them of not doing it. They are motivated by FEAR.

In the case of the “carrot” they are still doing what is required because they HAVE TO, in this case to get the carrot. They are motivated by GREED.

Both the “stick” and the “carrot” have inevitable consequences over time. People’s response to the “stick” is to resist, while people’s response to the “carrot”/to being bribed or manipulated, is to retaliate.

When one compares the WANT TO and the HAVE TO boss however it becomes apparent that the difference between the two is not their BEHAVIOUR. Both can evidence “hard” and “soft” behaviours. The difference between the two is in terms of their INTENT or motive. The WANT TO boss is in the relationship to GIVE to his/her people whereas the HAVE TO boss is there to GET results out of people.

Further to this, the GIVING of the WANT TO boss is not a giving of things like money but rather a giving of self. The giving of the WANT TO boss in fact boils down to only two drops of essence: care and growth.

All over the world, what people are looking for from the person they would work for willingly is the same. People only work willingly for a boss who has a sincere and genuine interest in them as a human being, not as a human resource (CARES for) and who helps them realise the best in themselves (GROWS them). The reason why there is a universal answer to the question “who would you work for willingly?” is simply this. Care and growth are not only human needs but also EXPECTATIONS that all people hold of anyone in authority. They are the universal criteria of any LEGITIMATE relationship of POWER.

From this we can draw three conclusions:

  1. There is a price to pay for LEGITIMATE POWER and it is not money. It is CARE and GROWTH. You can pay people as much as you like but if, as leaders, you do not deliver CARE and GROWTH your people will never be WILLING.
  2. You don’t have to do anything to MOTIVATE people, neither “stick” nor “carrot”. All you have to do is BECOME the kind of person that people are motivated by. The project in fact is YOU.
  3. Only when LEADERS CHANGE do their PEOPLE CHANGE and only then is there a sustainable CHANGE IN RESULTS. In 25 years I have only ever seen the cause-and-effect chain work as follows: leaders change è people change è the results change. It does not work any other way.

The good news is that what people want from their boss is entirely within the boss’s control to give them. Leaders choose to be trustworthy, to listen, to give feedback and so on.

To be a WANT TO boss does not require a budget. Nor does it require permission. Any leader can choose to serve their people. When they do so, they are rewarded, and the organisation is rewarded tenfold.