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By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership.

As a generalisation, people in the corporate world seem to find it difficult to admit to being “happy” with their pay. A classic comment which illustrates this point came from an individual who said “I am not unhappy with my pay, at the moment”. The implication being that at any moment now he would regress from “not unhappy” to “unhappy” almost as a default position.

Given the above, we at Legitimate Leadership have struggled with the wording in our Leadership Profiles pertaining to satisfaction with pay. We have settled with the proposition “My current level of remuneration positively acknowledges my contribution”, to which there are the following responses: Strongly Agree/Agree/Don’t Know/Disagree/Strongly Disagree.

The combined responses are reflected on a 21 point scale from +10 (everyone strongly agrees with the statement) to -10 (everyone strongly disagrees that their current level of remuneration positively acknowledges their contribution).

What we have found is that in any group of leaders the scores on this item vary considerably. Why, one wonders, would this be the case if all respondents are subject to the same reward system?

One possible explanation is that in some areas in the company people are being paid fairly and in others they are not. If this is the case, leadership legitimacy requires that the inequities are addressed. It is only right that this is so.

My belief, however, is that in most instances, the variation in score reflects not so much the actual situation with respect to pay, but the individual leader.

Weak leaders are themselves unhappy with their pay and see themselves as fellow victims of the system. Their discontent is picked up and then shared by their people. The dissatisfaction at the top is then amplified down the hierarchy such that the negative score at the top becomes a negative score to the power of 10 lower down in the organisation.

Good leaders on the other hand act appropriately with respect to their people’s pay. They:

  • Take their people’s concerns with their pay (if they have them) seriously. They do not pass the problem on to HR. Rather, if it is a valid concern, they move heaven and earth to address it.
  • As representatives of the company they are advocates of the system and do not rail against it. If they feel that the system is fundamentally flawed, they positively challenge it and promote an alternative, or they leave.
  • They help their people to understand their remuneration, because they have made it their business to understand how the system works, and they then help their people to do what they can do within the system to change their reward.
  • They absolutely do not side with their people against the company in order to fuel the fires of discontent with respect to what people are paid.

An interesting observation that I have made over the years is that people who are employed and those who are self-employed feel what they are getting in reward differently.

It seems that part of being a corporate soul is to have a sense of grievance with how much one is earning – irrespective of the actual amount that comes into one’s bank account every month. The self-employed person on the other hand has no one to blame and as a result focuses her energies on doing what needs to be done to improve take-home earnings. She takes accountability for the situation that she is in rather than being a victim of it.