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Wendy Lambourne’s opening address at the September Breakfast

Nothemba Mxenge, associate, Legitimate Leadership.


Participants at the breakfast.


Ian Munro during the Q & A session


Legitimate Leadership’s second breakfast event of 2017, on the subject “Cultivating Accountability and Ownership”, took place in Johannesburg on 7 September 2017. Speakers were Ronnie Huggins, Plant Manager at African Explosives Limited’s futuristic Initiating Systems Automated Assembly Plant (on how his plant’s productivity was more than doubled in less than a year, particularly through staff taking ownership); Nothemba Mxenge of Legitimate Leadership (on the Grow to Care programme for non-managers); and Ian Munro (on cultivating accountability and ownership in millennials).

Below, we summarise the presentations of Mxenge and Munro. Huggins’ presentation will be summarised in a future newsletter, subject to approval.


By Nothemba Mxenge, associate, Legitimate Leadership

Over the last five years I have had the great pleasure to conduct about 70 Grow to Care workshops, in four organisations (African Explosives Limited, Afrika Tikkun, Hyundai South Africa and Lightstone Group South Africa), interacting with more than 1,100 delegates.

The Grow to Care workshop is primarily aimed at non-managers, particularly in the front line at different levels of the organisation – including specialists (accountants, engineers, analysts), technicians, artisans, operators, office administrators, cleaners, cooks, gardeners, secretaries, security people, etc.

The workshop aims to establish a set of criteria for excellence in individual contribution. It allows participants to make different choices regarding their contribution at work, thus engaging their willingness.

Underpinning this choice is the key question posed on the day: “What does it take to GIVE of your best at work?”

I start off the day by asking the question “When coming to work, what do you consistently think about and feel?”. I also ask participants to reflect on the reasons why they come to work.

I have marvelled at the delegates, as they grapple with these two questions. In essence the two questions ask them to reflect on not only HOW they show up at work but WHY they are there.

Throughout the day we challenge their way of being, their motives, their levels of commitment – fundamentally, their willingness to meaningfully contribute their best.

By the end of the day, they have generally sufficiently interrogated their significance at work – that is, the value of what they PUT IN at work versus what they GET OUT from work. And, most significantly, they have asked themselves the question, “Am I here to GIVE or here to GET?”

The shift that is effected with this one-day workshop is primarily about making a choice to give. For most participants this is deeply insightful – a dislodgement, an eye opener, a rude awakening and a reality check.


By Ian Munro, director, Legitimate Leadership.

In the short stories below, I hope to show that millennials, like anyone else, can be cultivated to take accountability and ownership in an organisation.

The stories derive from my previous career as a regional manager, and ultimately head of professional services at a business consulting and software development organisation. The team comprised around 150 consultants, developers, change managers and trainers, mostly aged between 23 and 35, and almost all with postgraduate degrees in related fields. They were quintessential millennials – in other words, highly ambitious with expectations of rapid advancement.

The themes of the four stories below are:

  1. Life is not always surprising; also, don’t expect people to grow up in five minutes.
  2. Show them rather than just tell them.
  3. Confront people bluntly with reality to prompt them to take direction and accountability.
  4. Teach them by giving them discretion, not a budget.


STORY 1: Life is not always surprising; also, don’t expect people to grow up in five minutes.

In the mid-2000s, business was booming. There were lots of clients and projects. As an organisation we were growing. So we went on a university roadshow to hire bright young students who would be graduating soon.

We put together a presentation which we thought would be attractive to them. The first picture in the presentation was the Friday afternoon team meeting – a social affair which often turned into a fun evening partying with colleagues. It showed potential recruits just how much fun working in our business would be.

The second thing we emphasised in the presentation was, “If you join our business, there is potential for travel – we have clients in places like Sweden and the Middle East”.

Thirdly, we emphasised that unlike many consulting businesses, we would give successful applicants work-life balance.

What happened? Applications flooded in, and we hired the top students.

The following year, about 10 graduates arrived. And perhaps not surprisingly, they all wanted to party. Also, within two weeks they were asking me where the trip to New York was. And, for some, their idea of work-life balance erred significantly on the side of life.

We had got what we asked for. If you sell an image, that’s what comes through the door.

The next year, we went back to the drawing board and redid our presentation. We took out the pictures of people having parties and we put in pictures about what we did for our clients and what value we added; we also emphasised what the successful applicant would experience, what she could contribute, who she would work with, and what code of excellence there would be.

Once again, applications flooded in. But this time there was more focus on making a contribution. That is, we started to get real with people.

Another thing we did when they arrived was that we made sure we really valued contribution – that the message was clear that “If you make a contribution, that’s how you get promoted, that’s how you grow”. This confronted the fact that among graduates, there are many people who are looking for instant gratification, instant promotion.

But we realised that we couldn’t expect people to grow up in five minutes and we started promoting only as people matured and grew up. That meant that they started to be able to delay their need for instant gratification. If you value their contribution, they will value their contribution.

In summary, if you want people to take ownership, find people who value your purpose, not your perks. That is not to say that you should stop giving the perks – our consultants still had good parties – but that should not be people’s “why”.

STORY 2: Show them rather than just tell them. 

Later, I moved to the UK, to open our new office there. Shortly after arriving, and because of significant sales work done before I arrived, we landed a client in the financial services industry with a big project. The project was in the UK but we were building the software offshore.

From the outset there were challenges. I would sit in meeting after meeting with the client who would point out the problems. I would relay these, and listen to reasons and excuses from our software team.

This lasted for about three months. One day, on a Friday, I had an epiphany. I said to our project manager, “Come to London this weekend for a meeting with the client on Monday”.

He arrived and the meeting on Monday was difficult – just as the other meetings had been. At the end of the meeting, the project manager pulled me aside and said, “Wow, if we don’t start finding solutions, we might get fired!”

The money for the flight had been well spent! The project manager turned the project around in record time. The excuses stopped, the solutions started, and the whole team suddenly took ownership.

To me, the lesson was: if you want people to take ownership, show them!

Another example: if you are in manufacturing and you want people to take ownership of the condition of your plant, take them to the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London (in South Africa) – or any exemplary plant in your region. It will give them a new reference point. You may say the flight is too expensive – but it will be not nearly as expensive as your productivity deficit.

In summary, stop telling, and start showing people; we do far too much telling.

STORY 3: Confront people bluntly with reality to prompt them to take direction and accountability.

We were working with a major bank in South Africa and with the National Credit Act. The latter was fundamentally changing the credit landscape by helping people who otherwise didn’t have the ability to calculate compound interest etc.

I got our team together and asked them how the project was going, and how we could help them.

Their response was that they weren’t getting parking places at the client and they were getting inferior, chicory-blended coffee, etc.

I lost my cool. I confronted these people with the reality that they were being small-minded; that they were there to make a major contribution and yet they were worried about coffee. I told them to go back and think harder about how we could help them make a contribution. I set down another meeting for two weeks’ later.

The easy thing would have been to pander to them – to give them better coffee and arrange parking spaces at the client. But that would have been incorrect. Sometimes confronting people with the reality of how they are not seeing the bigger picture is important. People often take ownership if you speak straight to them, and prompt them to make a different choice.

Help people to see the bigger picture and don’t be afraid to confront their maturity. Their maturity is your job – that’s what leadership is all about.

STORY 4: Teach them by giving them discretion, not a budget.

Quite often, at the end of a successful project, the consultants would invite the client out to dinner. They would tell me about this and say “We just have one question – what is our budget for the dinner?” My reply was “be reasonable”. “No, no, what we need is a budget! Because how do we know how much we are allowed to spend?” I repeated, “be reasonable”. They repeated, “No, no!”

This was fascinating to me because when you give someone a budget you are determining whether this masters graduate can do maths – apart from the practical difficulties in dealing with a budget when you take people out for dinner (do you say, “You can have anything, but not the steak because too many people have opted for that already”?).

Firstly it’s impractical; secondly the person learns nothing! So I refuse to give a budget. Because that will make him be reasonable; or he will live with the consequences of what he does; or he will phone the client and say that the dinner is no longer on (which is also alright). All of these might bring him closer to what he wants to be, which is a senior consultant.

People say to me, “But what happens if he spends outrageously?” My reply is that if he does that, it will be a cheap price to pay to find out what he is actually about.

But also, in my experience, nobody ever overspent. If they erred at all, it was in the opposite direction.

In summary, again, it would be so easy to take the expedient option and give them a budget.




By Wendy Lambourne and Ian Munro, directors of Legitimate Leadership

As managers, it is tempting to divide our employees into two groups: “givers” and “takers”, those who take accountability and ownership and those who do not. We thank our lucky stars for the “givers” while we tear our hair out and feel despair for the “takers”.

We wonder whether the ratio of givers:takers in our business is a matter of providence and therefore something beyond our power or agency…? Or whether it is possible to determine, or at least influence, the relative size of the two groups.

As Legitimate Leadership, our response to these questions is the following:

  • There are “givers” in any organisation – wonderful human beings who are just this way, always have been and always will be, irrespective or even despite those who lead them.
  • Equally, every organisation has its share of “takers” – unattractive specimens of humanity who are similarly just this way, always have been and always will be, even under exceptional leadership.
  • But undoubtedly the mix of “givers” and “takers” is not a matter of chance. “Givers” and “takers” are largely manufactured by those in charge of them. What people are is on the whole a reflection on those who exercise authority over them. Beyond a shadow of a doubt “givers” beget “givers” and “takers” beget “takers”