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By Nothemba Mxenge, associate, Legitimate Leadership 

A “family atmosphere” in an organisation is generally regarded as being good for success. But it can also be somewhat disempowering. Legitimate Leadership had to show flexibility in assisting an organisation of this type.


The organisation had a total staff of about 120 people with three management levels. Legitimate Leadership was requested by a new senior manager to assist in transforming the organisational culture. This manager had prior exposure to the Legitimate Leadership Model and perceived that the organisation was stuck in victim mode, which resulted in a disempowering culture.

The disempowerment, it later transpired, was largely due to employees knowing each other so well. They had generally worked there for many years and there was a family atmosphere. Members of staff looked upon their managers as their fathers and mothers – and even often addressed them as such.

As a result, they would not raise any contrary views or suggestions to their elders or question them – as might be the case in a family. The attitude was “elders are always respected even if you disagree with them”.

But in small, informal groups, it became clear that there actually was a lot of dissatisfaction about management. Griping and moaning about management which included:

  • Lack of transparency, consistency and disclosure in communication.
  • Favouritism, unfairness and ill-treatment.
  • Silo mentality with internal competition (not collaboration) between functions.
  • Lack of role clarity and delineation of duties.
  • Lack of trust pervasive throughout the organisation.
  • Lack of maturity resulting in entitlement mentality and victim mentality.
  • Lack of accountability and ownership because of limited delegation of authority.
  • Lack of courage to do the right thing.

The problem had infected the whole organisation – even the top executives thought of themselves more as members of staff than leaders and were griping. In short, everyone in the organisation seemed stuck in victim mode and the organisation was battling with too many layers of management that hindered effective communication, decision-making and accountability.

Initially, Legitimate Leadership proposed a standard route of intervention – that is, a two-day Introduction to the Legitimate Leadership Model, followed by a leadership survey on the leaders in the organisation, followed by six one-day Application Modules and their respective review sessions.

The first application module normally implemented in a Legitimate Leadership intervention, Earning Trust Through Care, Time And Attention, is considered a gentle start for leaders. This module introduces them to key leadership skills required to develop both a personal and professional relationship with direct reports. Normally, this module is followed by the Enabling Human Excellence By Raising The Bar module.

Legitimate Leadership’s application modules are followed by Application Review Sessions. Participants are tasked with going away after each module to apply the tools given to them in the module back in the workplace; the Application Review Sessions are then held in small sub-groups of colleagues.

It was in the Application Review Sessions from the first application module that the culture of disempowerment, immaturity and victim mentality in the organisation became absolutely clear. It also became clear from the results of the leadership survey.

It was therefore decided that it was necessary to change course and implement a different second module, called Building Strong People by Shifting Victim Mindset. This was because raising the bar would require a different mindset to be in place in the first place. The Building Strong People by Shifting Victim Mindset module is designed to address the immediate concerns that are getting in the way of changing people’s approach to work from being here to “take” to being here to “give”.

Some of the other changes in the intervention included:

  • Conducting 6-8 weekly Steering Committee meetings in order to ventilate the organisational concerns or issues arising.
  • Using the Steering Committee to direct the intervention through deliberate decision-making.
  • Consulting on the most appropriate steps to take following the various diagnostic exercises.

One of the first breakthroughs was when leaders began to realise that they were part of the problem. They had not realised that it was their leadership responsibility to deliver on their leadership role; they had not realised that they were there to give, not to get and that they were part of the problem! This was a sobering moment because they knew they were responsible for the current status quo. It began to sink in that they had a lot of work to do!

Legitimate Leadership’s Gripe-to-Goal Process was key in helping them clarify their current reality (individually and collectively). This process’s steps aim to shift people from a victim state to a more empowered state where they can take accountability for the situation they are in.

One of the key questions they each had to answer in relation to the Legitimate Leadership programme was “How am I getting in the way of legitimising my leadership role?”. This was a profound question in order to fully take responsibility for leading change in self, others and the organisation.

Legitimate Leadership also had to show flexibility by deviating from its proven formula of application. As consultants, we needed to elevate the leaders of the organisation first before they could benefit from the subsequent application modules.