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Township Youth Learn ‘Give To Grow’

Basic Legitimate Leadership principles were encapsulated for general life application in a three-afternoon programme for high school learners – and the principles were surprisingly easily understood by them, according to the facilitators. The programme, called Give to Grow, is applied in South African townships by one of South Africa’s largest non-governmental welfare organisations, Afrika Tikkun.

Afrika Tikkun, founded in 1994 by the late Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Cyril Harris, and businessman/philanthropist the late Dr Bertie Lubner, provides, education, health and social services to young people and their families through five centres of excellence in South African townships.

The Legitimate Leadership Model has been applied in Afrika Tikkun’s operations for the past five years. Its application there has been championed by Leonie van Tonder, its former general manager; she had also previously applied the model in a number of situations in the South African commercial banking industry.

Legitimate Leadership has thus gained considerable currency among Afrika Tikkun’s employees (see Afrika Tikkun – An Astounding Culture Shift in One Year). But because Legitimate Leadership principles are also applicable to many areas of general life, ways were sought to also impart them to township children – see Give to Grow Leadership Workbook.

In its centres of excellence, Africa Tikkun runs empowerment programmes which include giving children an awareness of human rights (including sexism, racism and homophobia) – so that they can stand up for themselves with integrity, question the status quo, and contribute to a more just society. These empowerment programmes include self-advocacy groups of high school girls and boys of around 15-16 years old.

This cohort was also selected by Africa Tikkun as being most likely to benefit from an awareness of Legitimate Leadership principles because they are normally two years away from matriculation and not yet too focused on their school-leaving exams. Because of scarce resources, no programme can be offered to everyone.

Dr Jean Elphick, a former general manager of Afrika Tikkun’s empowerment team, says learners had to apply with a written CV (which is also useful in preparation for the world of work, which is one of the focuses for Africa Tikkun) and a supporting letter.

Those who were selected for the programme were required to absolutely commit to attending the three consecutive afternoon sessions which would be held.

A basic workbook was drawn up by the (adult) programme facilitators which particularly allowed space for participants to write their own answers and observations – and which they could refer back to after the programme hours.

The facilitators’ session plans were later developed into a set of facilitators’ notes.

This first workbook boiled the Legitimate Leadership principles down to three basic areas of focus, and this has been carried through to the final-version workbook, which is called the Give to Grow Leadership Workbook.

The three basic areas are set out on the first page of the 20-page booklet:

1. A successful life is about giving not taking. Giving is your choice and within your control.
2. Giving from the heart, and doing the right thing, makes us generous and courageous.
3. Mature people can put service above self.

Following the three-afternoon programme, feedback about it has been excellent, says Elphick. Given this, Africa Tikkun will include it in a leadership camp which it will run in 2020 and thereafter. It is planned that this will leadership camp be offered to children who have leadership positions (for instance in sports teams) as well as children who have reached grade 10 (two years before matriculation).

Pat Moloi, general manager of the Africa Tikkun’s Alexandra (township) centre of excellence, where the first programme was piloted, says she has observed that the children who took part in the first programme in 2018 have increased in confidence and are taking more leadership positions. She believes that the course was beneficial because it focused on the small group as individuals, and on their relationships with friends, family and other people. “It prompted them to reflect on who they are and those relationships,” she says. “Other courses they do are often related general knowledge, for instance.”

Moloi had previously done advanced Legitimate Leadership training, and as a facilitator, she interwove the course with material about intent – benevolent and malevolent. Intent is a strong theme in Legitimate Leadership.

Sylvania Sheppard of Legitimate Leadership, who co-designed the programme, says its core propositions are from Legitimate Leadership. For instance:

  • Giving is only giving if it is unconditional.
  • Giving is about being appropriate.
  • Giving is not only a giving of things.
  • Giving requires a preparedness to risk / lose.
  • You can give even if you have a little.
  • Giving is a choice.



An informal tone was set from the start to obviate any feeling of a big hierarchy between the adult facilitators and the learners, and to make participants feel calm and welcome.

The session started with an explanation of the three sessions and a check-in (there were also two check-ins at the end of each session because facilitators wanted participants’ input of the programme; there were also reminders and refreshers in the booklet which learners could write in afterwards with examples and observations from their lives.

Facilitators then asked participants to think about people who had made a contribution to their lives and how living a life of significance related to how much you give. Elphick says it was remarkable how easily the children comprehended this – they appeared to be in tune with it: “Kids are super-smart even when they come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Of course, mothers featured heavily here – for giving unconditional love, advice, help when mistakes were made, and assistance with self-confidence. But, surprisingly, the children came up with other types of giving by their mothers and other relatives – for instance, “she gave me my name/roots/identity”. All of these had the word “give” in them.

In the workbook, the spaces for written self-reflection proved very effective, including for checking whether the concepts had been fully understood. A number of children, for instance, took giving to be important because then they would then receive – which is in variance to the kind of giving which is advocated in the Legitimate Leadership Model and in the Give to Grow Leadership Workbook.

Thereafter, with a stack of cards bearing graphics showing various situations, the children were asked to sort the cards into:

  • Acts of taking/getting/having.
  • Acts of giving.

For instance, what were the following images – taking or giving? Working hard/ Making an effort/ Caring for others/ Being kind to others/ Receiving awards at school/ Being in the popular group at school/ Having the latest shoes/ Having a fancy phone/ Being a member of an important family/ Allowing someone to copy my homework.

After this first programme further cards have been added with graphics of instances adduced by the children.

This exercise works particularly well because the graphics are related to township life.

The course then focused on the proposition that “giving is under your control”. The facilitators asked participants to take the two piles of cards they had sorted (giving and taking) and divide them between those activities/instances which would be under their control and those which would not.

For instance, would being a member of an important family or having a big brand cellphone be under your control?

This was convincing evidence that acts of giving are mainly under your control.

The children were asked to again reflect on this and fill in their books.

Elphick remarks: “It is less effective to teach kids by telling them the theory and then asking them to relate this to their lives. It’s much better for them to do an activity and reach the conclusion in their own way.”

Sheppard says that many of the children came from homes with one or no parent. Although they generally had very little in the way of material possessions, they were quickly able to comprehend that giving is a choice and we have control over what we give whereas we have no control over what we are given.

“These learners know better than most children that they had no control over the little that they receive,” she says.

In the booklet, the summary of the first afternoon is:

  1. Giving is a choice. We have control over what we give.
  2. We do not have control over what we get.
  3. We can’t control what we don’t have control over.
  4. Giving is NOT only a giving of things.
  5. You can give even if you only have a little.
  6. Therefore, focusing on getting makes us weak because we can’t control it. Focus on giving makes us powerful.

The children were asked to, before the next session, fill in their “self reflection” and observe in what way they give or take – and to read and reflect on what had been said in the programme.

Elphick says repetition is an important part of the neuroscience of learning – and the booklet is repetitive in a number of places, particularly in relation to the basic tenets of giving and taking.


Two new words were introduced: courage and generosity, the two forms of giving. In Legitimate Leadership, to act courageously means to act despite your fears and though it means leaving your comfort zone; to act in accordance with your values, even though it is difficult, unpopular or criticised; and to do the ‘right thing’ even if it is difficult, dangerous or painful. To act with generosity means giving easily, from the heart; and giving unconditionally, without expecting anything in return.

It was important to make children aware that giving is not just about making people happy; it is not just about generosity. Sometimes it also involves having to do things which take courage.

To increase understanding of the two new words, the multi-lingual audience (South Africa has 11 official languages) was asked to translate the English words into as many languages as they could. This worked extremely well and resulted in excellent definitions in English.

Following this was another card sorting activity. This time, the cards bore graphics which only depicted acts of giving.

The children were asked to sort into piles acts of giving which required courage versus acts of giving which required generosity.

Then came another series of pictures and new vignettes, followed by questions and the introduction of two further words: selfishness and cowardice.

For instance, one picture showed a boy looking after a sick old lady in bed; a second picture was identical except that the old lady’s last will was lying in the foreground. In other words, the same apparent activity could fall under different categories according to intent.

Another set of images showed a hungry child at the door. Generosity would require you to give that child some food; but if the child repeatedly appeared at the door, acts of courage might be required.

Discussion of the questions and answers followed. Sheppard says participants said not being courageous means not facing your fears and choosing to do the right thing. If you do not act courageously, you are being cowardly.

The opposite of generosity, they said, is selfishness, which is when you choose not to give because you don’t want to risk losing things like time, money, food or belongings.

Then participants wrote in the workbook (page 8) about generosity, selfishness, courage, cowardice, gratitude and trust. Self-reflection on page 10 was for between the sessions.
The children were also asked to keep a gratitude journal (page 13). According to research, keeping a gratitude journal increases people’s happiness, says Ephick. On page 14 there were prompts about gratitude.

Says Sheppard, “You might think that with so little, these children would be worn down and have difficulty with being grateful. But it was the opposite.”


This involved revising everything that had been done so far and making sure that it was understood and absorbed.

Participants were asked to share examples of their acts of courage and generosity.

Then a pop quiz was held to see how much had been retained, with questions such as:

  • A successful life is about …?
  • Why does focusing on taking make you weak?
  • Why can we not control what we get in life, only what we give?
  • Two types of growing are …?
  • What do generosity and courage mean to you?
  • Why do people choose sometimes not give of themselves or act courageously?
  • What could be the risks of being generous or courageous?
  • Are you a giver or a taker?

A discussion followed about the responses.

Thereafter, the concept of maturity was introduced. Maturity is important to children, and whether they are perceived to be mature.

The question of how mature you are was linked to how much you give – and, from that, how significant you are able to live your life. Legitimate Leadership says maturity requires the suspension of own agenda. Maturity has nothing to do with age, education or experiences.

It was pointed out by participants that you could be 70 years old and immature and that 16 year-old participants could be more mature than adults if they were there to serve the other rather than themselves; that with maturity comes giving; and that people can depend on mature people.

In an intense session, requiring good facilitation skills, the children are asked to rate on a scale to what extent they believed that they were givers or takers/mature or immature.

Then the children are asked who would have the courage to share their scores and have them discussed by the group. The risk here was embarrassment or hard feedback – so volunteering was an act of courage.

In the event, all participants had the courage to share their scores.

The participants were then invited to give each other feedback on the scores that they had given themselves. There was considerable emotion around this.

Many of the participants had underscored themselves, according to the feedback. Some were seen by their peers as young in age but more mature, for instance.

A few had overscored themselves, according to their peers – generally, Elphick says, the more extroverted boys.

This last session then led into an existential debate, also requiring skilled facilitation.

In closing, the participants were asked to reflect on the whole programme and what value they had derived from it.

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Singular Systems: Reinventing Its Performance Management System


Singular Systems, which was founded in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a bespoke software provider with a total staff today across its three sites of about 200. The company was started by Anthony Wilmot and the current CEO, Nicholas Kruiskamp, and has a family-business ethos.

Luckily, when the company embarked on reinventing its pre-existing performance management system in 2017, there was a fair degree of trust already within its culture. “Any process you could think of would have zero impact if it didn’t have trust,” says Dave Elliott, an executive of Singular Systems.

Another essential was that care and growth of employees as a value had to be accepted by the top leadership.

The performance management project was embarked upon simultaneously with a Legitimate Leadership transformation project, led by Ian Munro (see Reinventing Performance Management Workshop). Following the reinvention, Singular Systems Cape Town achieved increased revenue growth year-on-year due, among other things, to focus on growing staff and driving individual contribution.

Singular Systems applied principles from Legitimate Leadership in designing its new system. Thereafter Singular Systems evolved its own system in its three separate offices (in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London).

Divisional goals are aligned to achieving the company-defined goals; thereafter, the process of performance management is consistent across the geographies. However, the specific goals, values, principles and cultures that are defined in each are specific to the geographies.

Elliott says the family culture of the business was both a blessing and a curse. A curse because a new entrant would not clearly know it’s values, which were unstated between original “family” members –  and this could result in a plunge in quality when a family member was not involved in a project.

“In a business which is scaling up, when there is a results focus rather than a contribution focus, this becomes a challenge,” he says.

In reviewing Singular Systems’ pre-existing performance management system, it was observed that  support/mentorship was hindered by two issues.

  1. The company was not able to define what excellence looked like and also could not articulate the means that were needed to execute a task efficiently (for example, the expectation was that middle management would organically grow the skills needed to lead people). “Language is important in any framework. We had not, for instance, defined what ‘excellence’ looked like. We used to use wording like ‘keep up good delivery on client X’. But it was left to that person’s interpretation of what ‘good delivery’ looked like rather than the concept having been defined in terms of process, quality and principles. This has now changed.”
  2. When the quality was not good enough on project-based work, the senior team would swoop in to save the day rather than holding people accountable and using the opportunity to grow individuals involved or have tough discussions. Thus the opportunity to grow in a difficult situation/period was taken away.

The company’s pre-existing, conventional performance management system was very financially orientated, with goals and budgets defined annually and assessed every six months.

“Every six months management sat with each employee and examined his performance and from that decided on salary increases and bonuses. The question asked of the employee then was not related to the values and goals of the organisation and was usually a generalised ‘how did the past six months go?’”

Also, many people were putting in a lot of very hard work. The question arose as to why they were working so hard. Perhaps it was because quality was not the best and there were too many reworks of software. If that was the pattern, then according to the Legitimate Leadership Model, bonuses based on working really hard but not actually adding significant value were not justified.

There was, apparently, much potential for streamlining and greater efficiency.


  • From the start, in line with Legitimate Leadership principles, it was stated that the overall purpose of the reinvented system would be to grow people and enable their contribution. In the previous system, every year the company’s financial goals were set for the year ahead and these were cascaded down to each division. Now these goals include some non-financial goals as well. Progress against all goals is communicated to all staff on a monthly basis. “Financial goals and budgets are very much part of the process, but the difference is that both financial and non-financial goals have been articulated. For instance, non-financial goals included one on hiring – a goal of better understanding talent acquisition (because the costs of recruiters was too high, the company had to do its own recruitment).”
  • Whereas previously the review process had two main elements – retro and goals – in formulating the new system, huge initial work was done on first understanding the company’s Values and Standards – that is, Values and Standards for “each other” and Values and Standards for “clients”. Once the Values and Standards were defined as precisely as possible (clichés were avoided), it was clear what people would be required to “stand up” for.

“What time we spend on something is a reflection of our focus. Our focus changed from the results to empowering people. This required an initial massive time investment. They need to feel the care!”

The session to define site Values and Standards is repeated every year and this exercise now takes a few hours.

“This is because there is now a thread through the organisation, in its fabric, and through all individuals. This means that subsequent changes are mere tweaks to reflect changes in the environment or in perceptions. Some of our Values – for instance, gratitude – will always need to be there; others will change. For instance, work-life balance may change for individuals. A bachelor joining the company might want to work harder than a new father, which is perfectly acceptable.

“Most empowering is that whereas we normally think that formulating performance management systems is a top-down process, this process – because it is transparent – is not. A junior can challenge a senior, saying that a particular behaviour is not in line with a particular value. Formulating and broadcasting the values and principles causes immediate bonding within the company.”

  • Job roles were revisited to ensure that the unique value-add of each role in terms of Purpose and Key Accountabilities was appropriate. Articulation of skills and what is required from each job role, and training required, is done across a number of facets. This is also done from the client perspective for each job role.
  • Each staff member within the organization was assigned a Project Lead and Career Manager. The Project Lead of a project team is responsible for the care and growth of those on the project. A Career Manager’s focus is on longer term career development in line with the individual’s aspirations as long as he is with the company. This was seen as a particularly important addition in this project-based company to provide continuous focus on an individual’s development as he might move from one project team to another.
  • Monthly Contribution Sessions have been instituted, attended by the individual employee, the Career Manager and the Project Lead. The individual brings her proposed contributions for the month ahead that need to align from a complexity perspective with what is defined against her job role. Each contribution begins with “I will commit to …” (in contrast to the previous common statement “I will continue to …”). The individual also brings her assessment of her contribution overall in the past month (Superstar, Solid Citizen, Growable/Coachable, Disconnect). The Career Manager and Project Lead share their perceptions of the individual’s past contributions as well as acting as coaches on the proposed contributions for the month ahead. The employee owns her contributions and understands that this is what she is accountable for. In the staff of 40, there are 5-8 career managers who may look after one individual or more. And there are about 10 Project Leads because the division typically has 10-14 clients.
  • Every 6 months a bonus is paid (depending of course on company performance – if there is poor financial performance there is no bonus). Notably, doing the job to the required expectations is not worthy of a bonus – that is what the salary addresses. The bonus is paid out on what over-and-above contributions the individual has made – project-related, business-related, in relation to clients, behaviours and attitude. Over-and-above contributions may be acts not agreed in the monthly contributions and deliverables – for instance a person who brings a good attitude and contributes to the broader team’s happiness day-to-day is unlikely to have been defined previously in Values and Behaviours, but is considered to add value. During the performance appraisal, a discussion is held and a 1–10 score is agreed. The 6 months of contribution discussions are obviously an input in these discussions. Elliott recognizes that the rating thus arrived at is subjective but he says that there is generally alignment of the score between the parties involved if the contribution sessions and process have been well adopted and adhered to because they minimise the discrepancy in people’s perceptions of their performances and those held by their managers. “Our initial assumption was that people would be upset when their bonus was small, but that is generally not the case.” Variance in bonus payments has increased – people who have ‘shot the lights out’ in the past 6 months now get significantly more than those merely contributing at the level that their job role prescribes. Previously, under the family business culture, there was less disparity between bonus percentages of a monthly salary as everyone was seen to be driving the financial success of the business. This created two challenges: it disincentivised the members of staff that were contributing significantly over and above what was expected of them, bringing them back down to a mean; and it validated poorer performance from members of staff who had merely performed at the minimum required level.

After the new performance management system and its philosophy had been formulated, Elliott organised a breakaway morning for the 40-person Cape Town team in which the new principles were explained. Elliott has been the champion of the process – but other staffers have been brought on board and there is now wide-spread support for it.


  • Singular Systems Cape Town has been able to shift the emphasis and culture of the site from financial to people development so that its excellent financial growth recently has been a byproduct of people development rather than the reverse. Management has also realised that it is not asking for more time and effort but rather for a defined contribution.
  • Employees increasingly realise that it’s not for the Project Manager to come up with tasks for them; it is for them to define their contributions and, for instance, say “could you please give me more projects to align me with X or Y”.
  • There is increased alignment between day-to-day work and impact on company and department goals.
  • Everyone holds others to account.
  • Only once people are performing at the next level is a promotion offered. And the person concerned is first asked whether he wants to take on more responsibility. Not everyone does – just as not everybody wants to lead. Previously a technical person often just grew into a manager’s position. “We had extremely competent technical people who weren’t necessarily good managers.” But whatever they decide, everyone is still developed!
  • Deadweight people – victims – have left the company. Previously they did enough to check all the boxes and management couldn’t articulate what they were doing wrong. This bred a culture of mediocrity and discouraged new entrants.


  • Elliott’s Cape Town team numbers about 40; he believes that the system is scalable. A team of 900, for instance, should be divided up into groups according to geography, skills or other criteria. Singular Systems is a project-oriented company. In a more “continuous work” company the principles are the same, he says: look for the different components. “For instance, a farm needs preparation of the ground; preparation of the seed; planting; and harvesting. Hold people to account for each element.”
  • Of course there are external factors. In farming, for instance, even with the best intent you might be let down by the weather. If you don’t recognise this, it’s demotivating. You can only be held accountable to what is in your control.
  • “We work in an industry where there is a huge demand and competition for good people. In order to develop staff effectively, there is a significant time and cost associated with this – investment that leads to value creation but requires up front commitment and consistency. As a result, companies may be concerned that the investment is lost when people leave for other businesses. Our view is in line with the adage, ‘what happens if we train our staff and they leave?’ We say, ‘what happens if we don’t and they stay?’ We have accepted that there will be an attrition rate, but attrition rates have fallen in our division.”
  • “Many of the meetings with the Career Manager occur over a meal or coffee. Initially we asked the staff to select career managers. Later, with new recruits coming in we have had great people looking for opportunities to be Career Managers. They are also thereby steeped in the Legitimate Leadership Model.”
  • People define their own career path and Career Managers facilitate this. “There is a myth that if a company cares about people it has to give up caring about the money. But the two are not in opposition. They are actually aligned – and we communicate this to shareholders.”
  • Consistency is more effective than intensity. In other words, do consistent education, not big-bang. Education takes time and effort. “Going to the dentist doesn’t look after your teeth; brushing your teeth does.”
  • It’s not the mechanism of the performance management system, it’s the spirit, that matters.
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Getting Employees To Understand Your Values And Standards

By Stuart Foulds, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

Ince, a South African company in the information and investment sectors, has been engaged in applying Legitimate Leadership’s module, Enabling Human Excellence by Raising the Bar. This module particularly addresses standards.

The company has been re-evaluating three sets of standards: relating to leadership, behaviour and performance.

Behavioural standards are based on values, and one of the company’s values is “collaboration”. Linked to this value is a behavioural standard paraphrased as, “We say never say ‘no’ to a customer; we say ‘yes’ and try to meet their needs”.

During the application module workshop, the executive team noted that the “say yes” behavioural standard was well established in relation to external customers, but much less so for internal customers. Internally, often the response to a request for assistance was, for instance, “that’s not my portfolio”, or “that’s not my business”.

Following the application module workshop, the executive team set about clarifying the company’s standards as they related to internal collaboration. They articulated this to the broader business as a new behavioural standard called “Turn No into Yes”, using an infographic (accompanying illustration) to make the intent behind the standard clear.

The wider lesson for the executive team in this instance was that, employees (especially new inductees) do not necessarily understand all the implications of company values and standards. Leaders assume too readily that there is a common understanding – but without defining clearly what is meant by certain values and their associated behavioural standards (for instance, articulating what “good” looks like).

Alban Atkinson, managing director of Ince, commented: “We are in the eighth month of our Legitimate Leadership programme, for 45 leaders. We started implementing this behavioural methodology in the fourth month. Since then, the language of the whole organisation has changed to reflect the new standard. And it’s not just the language. The executive team is three Legitimate Leadership modules ahead of the rest, and their behavioural change in relation to this standard is now noticeable. We believe the rest of our people will follow suit soon.”



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Addressing An Underground Failure To Communicate

By Stefaan van den Heever, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

In an underground mining operation, a section engineering manager with underground managers reporting to him, made a few Legitimate Leadership changes which resulted in machine availability rates rising by 9% in a few months.

The problem was that there was no communication at shift hand-over between underground managers about machine breakages, problems, etc. Managers would routinely go home from their shifts without having communicated at all to the next shift. Because they were underground where there was no signal, they could not even communicate by radio.

In other words, there were silos between different shifts.

This resulted in shift information being lost and, more importantly, in machine breakages being carried over from one shift to the next. It often took a long time for an engineer to diagnose the reason for a machine fault, but then this information was not handed over at the end of the shift. This often resulted in machines standing unrepaired for days.

To address the problem, the section engineering manager called his team together. He told them that they were giving the company their time, but not making a quality contribution. “Are you here just to get a pay cheque or to be participative and to make a value-adding contribution?” he asked.

In other words, he challenged his managers on their intent and their attitude.

He also clarified his managers’ contribution in this regard and required a new standard. This standard was that they would, before leaving the site at the end of a shift, communicate with the next shift regarding the nature of any breakdown or problem; their assessment of it; what they had done about it; and what they recommended the next steps should be.

The section engineering manager also made some changes in his team, reassigning people to roles where he thought they could contribute – instead of writing them off.

After a few months, the section engineering manager reported that there was continuity between shifts and that communication was consistent.

He then took a further step: he empowered his managers to decide which machines to give priority – which would need to be fixed on a particular day, rather than other ones. This added an element of planning and prioritisation to their duties.

Before these changes, machine availability in the section averaged 74%. Following the changes, machine availability rose to 83% on a skeleton staff (there had been a number of personnel departures, for other reasons). This was a rise of 9% in machine availability.

These actions took place during a Legitimate Leadership intervention. The section engineering manager used the Legitimate Leadership framework particularly in questioning the basic intent of the employees as well as their contribution; then clarifying contribution; and signalling that he would be holding his managers to account.

All this resulted in a new standard being set about shift hand-overs for managers.

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It Is Not About Behaviour, It Is About Intent

By Josh Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

Whether trust is granted to a manager, or withheld, by employees is not a function of behaviour but of the manager’s intent. In other words, “what” managers do to their people in terms of behaviour is not nearly as important as “why” they do it.

The above is central to the Legitimate Leadership Model.

Conceptually, it sounds sensible. Practically, there is a counter argument to this: surely there is a level of “hard behaviour” (think disrespectful language / shouting / verbally abusive behaviour) that would never be tolerated regardless of the intent behind it?

Intent is all well and good, but if you don’t talk to people respectfully, intent doesn’t matter … right? In my early consulting work, I subscribed to this argument.

But in 2013 I learned the truth of the Legitimate Leadership proposition in the tough environs of the South African platinum mining industry.

I’d had some discussion with others far more experienced in the application of the model about this issue, and they’d simply said “you’ll be amazed what employees will forgive their managers for, when the intent is right”.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to work with a large team helping a major platinum producer to apply the model in their business. I was assigned to one of the mine shafts as a “coach” to the managers on the shaft. This particular shaft was nearing the end of its life, but word on the street was that it was the most dependable operation in the business, with safety and production targets being met with amazing consistency – unusual in mining.

On my first visit (and my first foray into the mining production environment) I was introduced to the “mine manager’s assistant” (let’s call him Wayne), who I quickly established was the real authority on the shaft. He did not immediately come across as “warm and inviting”, but after establishing what we were there to do and that the project was endorsed by the group head of mining, he quickly set about arranging access for me and finding out what I needed in terms of support.

My first order of business was a series of two-hour introductory presentations on the model to shift supervisors, which had to be done at 4:30am before their underground shift started. Trying to engage people in learning activities post-shift would have been be a waste of time.

Wayne arranged the schedule for me – I’d start the following morning. He then invited me to a monthly pre-arranged meeting at 3pm that day so I could be introduced to all the shift supervisors. “Don’t be late,” he said.

I duly arrived at the meeting venue at 2:50pm, to find the meeting had already started. The room was filled with Wayne, his mine overseers and all of the shift supervisors on the shaft. As I walked through the door, Wayne gave me a sideways glance. “Oh, its the care and growth guy,” he said. And to me: “You may not want to be here for this conversation, but go and take a seat in the back.”

The mood in the room was tense. Clearly something had happened during the day that Wayne was displeased about. What happened next can only be described as the quintessential “skop en donder” (literally: “kick and thunder”) that is, sometimes unkindly, stereotypical of the mining industry.

Wayne gave the entire room a tongue-lashing the likes of which I had never seen in my life to that point. He shouted, swore, and singled out individuals to point out how incompetent and careless they had been. Personal, verbal abuse continued for 45 minutes. All of my experience told me that there was a severe leadership problem here, and that my work was cut out for me.

The next morning at 4:30am I started my first introduction to the framework with a group of shift supervisors. I fully expected to hear lots of stories about the poor leadership and abusive behaviour on the shaft.

When introducing people to the framework we pose the question, ‘describe the manager you would work for willingly’.

In this case I gave the group a set of cards and cokie pens and asked them to write their ideas and themes on the cards and I put them on the wall. As I started the exercise I got the adjectives that we expect (supportive, listens, is fair, gives direction, has empathy, is decisive, gives me space, etc). As I turned over the next card, instead of another adjective, a name was written on the card: “Wayne D”.

I paused the session and clarified that “Wayne D” was the mine manager’s assistant. I was at a loss for words.

The person who wrote the card looked me squarely in the eye and, in classic mining vernacular, said: “Look, Wayne might a little ‘roff’ (rough), but I’d take a bullet for him – we all would.” There was furious nodding from all present. I asked why. “We come first. Always. You can go to him with any problem, any time of the day or night and he will bend over backwards to help you. Sometimes, the help you need is a large “klap” (slap) to set you straight again, and that’s fine by me. When there is an accident underground, he’s the first person to gear up and head down, and he’s risked his life to save the lives of others on the shaft. He always has our back. He demands the best from us, and gives us his best. So, if he thinks we’ve messed up he can say what he likes to us. We deserved what we got from him yesterday anyway.”

I ran three more sessions with the shift supervisors that week. Without exception, every person told me that Wayne was absolutely the best boss they had ever worked for, and was the absolute epitome of a leader aligned with the two criteria, care and growth.

This experience has stuck with me as proof positive that it really isn’t about their behaviour at all, it is about their Intent.