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Ronnie Huggins, Plant Manager at African Explosives Limited at the September Breakfast.



A summary of the presentation by Ronnie Huggins, Plant Manager at African Explosives Limited’s Initiating Systems Automated Assembly Plant, at Legitimate Leadership’s recent breakfast event on the subject Cultivating Accountability and Ownership. Comment by three attendees at the presentation is given at the end of this summary.


Ronnie Huggins, who has been Plant Manager at African Explosives Limited’s futuristic new (explosives) Initiating Systems Automated Plant (ISAP) for the past five years, presented on how, primarily through working with his staff, a huge increase in productivity was achieved in less than a year.

Huggins said he believes the dramatic improvement in plant performance could be attributed to a change in the people on his plant to the point where they took accountability and ownership.

The plant is a 24-7 operation employing 129 people, mainly woman, many of whom are single mothers – in other words, they have a lot of priorities outside of work.

According to his presentation, greater ownership and accountability were achieved through four basic changes: he listened to his people; he valued their input; he came to understand them as human beings; and (perhaps most importantly) he made the transition from being an engineer to a plant manager who encourages his people’s willingness.

Said Huggins: “Being in explosives, there are many safety concerns. And the question is asked whether ownership and accountability can be created in such a stringent environment.

“The assembly process that I manage comprises five high-speed machines. There are over a thousand moving parts in each machine, so they are highly complex and technical. I am also responsible for the shock tube extrusion plant and its high-speed extrusion lines.

“ISAP is a project which started in 2006 and came into operation in 2009. Because it was largely automated, it was supposed to become the ‘factory of the future’ – the leader internationally of automated production of initiating systems for explosives used in mining and elsewhere.




By Joshua Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

In our introductory programmes one of the issues we work through is the idea of the Intent test.  Legitimate Leadership argues that the only real measure we have of whether we can trust someone is whether they are able to suspend their agenda for ours; whether they are able to set aside their self-interest, and act instead in ours.  It is on this basis alone that trust is granted or withheld and, in the leadership relationship, the manager is seen to be worthy of support, or not.

So what does it mean to pass the intent test?  Consider the following situations:

  • A lead has arisen that could lead to an important sale for your business.  You have two sales people you can assign the work to.  Jill is your top sales performer and realistically has the best chance of securing the deal.  Andrew is a good sales performer, and giving this deal to him will stretch his ability and he will have gained some much needed experience in pursuing the opportunity.  His prospects of success are not as good as Jill’s.  Who do you give the opportunity to?
  • You are in your office, and Lindiwe comes in to ask for help on an important piece of work.  You are listening to her problem when your phone, which is lying on the desk, beeps.  It is a WhatsApp from your boss. You are waiting on a reply to a request you’d sent him earlier in the day.  Do you read the message or carry on the conversation with Lindiwe?
  • Your boss calls you in a rage.  She has just seen one of your subordinates arriving at work an hour late, and demands that you discipline her for late coming. Poor punctuality is a pet hate of your boss, and something she is very intolerant of.  Further, your boss as a reputation for being inflexible once she has made a decision – she does not change her mind easily.  You don’t yet know why the subordinate was late.  How do you respond?
  • It is 8:30 in the morning, and you have a critical meeting starting in 30 minutes, at which you have to give a presentation on the quarterly results.  You spent many hours on the presentation, and somehow lost the work.  You’ve been at the office since 6am reconstructing what you lost, and are almost done, save for some of the finishing touches.  You have completely forgotten that you agreed to a brief discussion regarding some personal difficulty your staff member has been having, and he wants to give you an update. He has arrived at your office on time. What do you say to him?



By Peter Jordan, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

A central precept of legitimate leadership is that a leader gains the trust of his subordinates by the provision of care and growth. Care and growth is actualised by the leader giving people the means and ability to do the job and then holding them appropriately accountable for performance. Once this is consistently demonstrated over a period of time, the leadership of the manager becomes legitimate.

Ability is provided by structured feedback, coaching and training, both on and off the job. Accountability happens when managers provide consequence for performance: reward for exceptional performance, recognition of consistent performance on or above standard; censure for performance which is below standard and discipline for misconduct and repeated carelessness. Reward and recognition constitute positive accountability whereas censure and discipline constitute negative accountability. The above is always applied relative to a clear standard.

The hard and soft mistakes typically occur in the application of negative accountability.

The hard mistake occurs when the manager applies negative accountability under circumstances where adequate means and ability have not been put in place. The soft mistake is committed where means and ability are in fact in place but the manager fails to hold the subordinate accountable for under performance, carelessness or misconduct.

The soft mistake may take the form of taking no action or in mistakenly attributing the negative exception to means or ability (most often the latter).

In the context of two clients in South Africa with which we have engaged over the last year both the hard and soft mistakes were widely prevalent, at least at the start of the interventions.




Simon Sinek has made a number of points which are totally aligned to the Legitimate Leadership framework:

  1. Leadership is absolute love for the people who have committed their lives to this enterprise.
  2. Leadership is hard to measure in the short term but easy to measure in the long term.
  3. Leaders care for those who report to them directly with one purpose only: that they will take care of the people in their charge.
  4. The best leaders have the courage to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming pressure.
  5. Only when we foster relationships with people around us who care about and love us do we find the courage to do the right thing.

OUR SUMMARY OF THIS VIDEO: When did your love for your wife happen? It’s not easy to prove when it started. Like leadership, it’s easier to prove that it exists over a period of time.

Likewise with going to gym – you come back after the first session and see no change in your body. But if you believe there’s something there and you commit to going on with the action, to the regime, you will get into shape.

If you go to the dentist twice a year, your teeth will fall out because you haven’t brushed them every day. Brushing your teeth does nothing unless you do it every day. Going to gym for eight hours doesn’t produce a result; going to gym consistently over time does.

These things are not about an event, but about consistency.

Likewise for leadership. We go to leadership events, which are comparable to going to the dentist because they are important for reminding us and getting us on track. But it is the daily practice that matters the most.

Leadership is an accumulation of many, many little things and events that, by themselves, are innocuous and useless. It’s those things, done over and over and over and in combination with other things, which will prompt people to say “I love my job”. Not “I like my job” (which means they are well paid and it’s challenging and they like the people).

“I love my job” means you don’t want to work anywhere else – it doesn’t matter how much somebody else is willing to pay.

In business we have colleagues and co-workers. In the military, by contrast, they think of each other as brothers and sisters, as family. If you really have a strong corporate culture, the people will think of each other as brothers and sisters. They may fight and bicker, but the love doesn’t go away and they will be united against any outside challenge or threat.

How do you create brothers and sisters out of strangers? Common beliefs and values; executives (parents) who care about the children’s success, who care to raise their skills and discipline them when necessary, so that they can raise their confidence to the level where they will achieve things that the parents could never have dreamt of achieving. Leadership is absolute love for the people who committed their lives to this enterprise.

It’s a simple concept but it’s incredibly hard work. It’s hard to measure in the short term but easy to measure in the long term. Over the long term the traditional metrics will all go up – profits market share etc. More importantly, they will go up more stably. Your organisation will be able to weather the hard times better because people will come together; they won’t abandon ship.

Also over the long term, your staff churn will go down. Loyalty will be better, people will turn down better-paying jobs.

But it is true that scale breaks things. As an organisation grows, spending time with any single individual becomes more difficult to do. According to Dunbar’s number we are not made for populations bigger than about 150 – that is, we cannot maintain more than about 150 close relationships (a close relationship being defined as “if you were at a bar with a group of friends and someone came in, you would ask that person to join you”). The reason is that there are two limiting factors: time (you don’t have enough of it to pay a lot of attention to everyone); and memory (you just can’t remember everyone).

So leadership becomes interesting in a company with many employees. The CEO can’t know all of them. In this situation a CEO’s statement like “I care about every one of my people” is a nonsense. But she could credibly say “I desperately care about the people whose names I know and whose faces I recognise”; and “I desperately care about my leaders and I instil in them every day that I will give them the tools and I will take care of them with one purpose only: that they will take care of the people in their charge … and I want those people in turn to take care of the people in their charge, and so on.”

So by the time you get down to the masses, where the thousands of employees exist (because the seniors are few in number), about 100 or 150 of them can look to their direct leader and say “that person cares about me. That person is my leader – not the CEO, but my leader.”

But sometimes you get fired or you get in trouble and the next guy gets all the credit for what you did. Only the best leaders have the courage to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming pressure. And here’s the folly: courage is not some deep internal fortitude. You don’t dig down deep and find it. No, courage is external – it comes from the support you feel when someone has your back; it comes from the relationships that we foster with the people around us who care about us and love us. When we have those relationships, we find the courage to do the right thing. And when we act with courage, that in turn will inspire those in our organisation to also act with courage. In other words, it’s still an external thing. That is what inspiration is – “I’m inspired to follow your example”.

And those relationships that we foster over the course of a lifetime will not only make us into the leaders that we need to be and hope we can be, but they will often save our life, save us from depression, from giving up, from all manner of negative feelings about our capabilities and our future – when someone just says “I love you and I will follow you no matter what”.