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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.

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Three Things I Learned When I Agreed Mid-Year Deliverables With My Team

By Ian Munro, director, Legitimate Leadership.

In the Legitimate Leadership business, every 120 days we go through a process designed to generate clarity, focus, alignment, and growth for our people. We call this process clarifying contribution and we believe it has clear benefits for our team members (specifically, the aforementioned clarity, focus, alignment and growth).

It has obvious benefits for our organisation as well, especially as each step in the process must be aligned with the organisation’s goals and strategy. What is perhaps less obvious is how valuable this process has been for me. Every 120 days I learn something.

In the most recent cycle – mid-year 2019 – I learned three things.

  1. I HAVEN’T BEEN CLEAR ENOUGH IN COMMUNICATING STRATEGY.  Given how frequently I see this with clients, it’s embarrassing to admit that I made this mistake myself. It’s not that we don’t have a sound strategy. I even have it written down in clearly understandable picture form. I also know that I have discussed it, debated its merits, updated its details, and made changes to the picture on the shared drive. And that’s the problem: it’s not in people’s heads, it’s on the shared drive. Sure, it’s in some people’s heads – the people I debated it with – but if there’s even one person who doesn’t get where we are going, then that’s one person who can’t be fully committed to helping us succeed. At least now I’m aware. If I hadn’t been rigorous about aligning the team’s deliverables with our strategy, I still wouldn’t be.
  2. I CAN TRY TO HELP, BUT I CAN’T BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR SOMEONE ELSE’S SUCCESS. One member of our team has a particularly important deliverable. If he fails to deliver there are far-reaching implications for both that person and the business. So, I asked myself, “What is my potential contribution, my deliverable in helping this person to succeed?” I want to say that I will ensure that he delivers. But practically there is no way to ensure someone else delivers. One can ensure the job gets done (e.g. by doing it oneself, or assigning it elsewhere at the last minute), but that’s not the same as the other person delivering. It’s frustrating, because I really want to ensure, but at the end of the day, I need to step back and acknowledge that the only person who can take accountability for someone’s success, is that person.
  3. CLARIFYING DELIVERABLES IS AS MUCH ABOUT LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP AS IT IS ABOUT UNCOVERING OPPORTUNITIES TO BE HELPED. Possibly the most useful thing about the clarifying contribution process is that it gets people talking. Rather than acting in a vacuum it forces people to talk about what they have done, what they are going to do, and how others can help them to succeed. In the last few weeks, by talking about how I could better support an associate with one of her development deliverables, I realised that our onboarding and development process could be improved in ways that I had not previously considered. As one of my deliverables happens to be formalising and documenting this onboarding process, the insight gained has been enormously helpful in enabling me to meet my commitments too.

I went into the midyear clarifying contribution process thinking I was doing it for the team. It turns out that I may have been the one who benefitted the most.

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Fuelling Performance In Fashion Retail Through Legitimate Leadership

By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership.

Fashion retail is a notoriously demanding industry as more and more brands compete for an ever-shrinking consumer purse. Converting ‘window shoppers’ into customers who fill their baskets rather than buy a single item, and come back again and again, is what it is all about.

Two well-known South African fashion brands embraced the Legitimate Leadership principles and practices to effect a step-change in the calibre of their leaders at three levels in their operations. Their focus on enabling those in the front line in their stores countrywide has impacted positively, not only on turnover but on all of their performance indicators. The intervention showed conclusively that you don’t have to trade off between people and results. You can have both.


A three-day breakaway is traditionally held every year by the business for its top 50+ people. On this occasion, the agenda was split between business strategy and leadership.

Legitimate Leadership facilitated a highly interactive session which engaged participants in a debate regarding what accounts for individual, team and organisational excellence.

Participants were introduced to this unique perspective on leadership and gained the key insight that leadership is not about what leaders can ‘get’ out of their people but rather what they can ‘give’ to their people to enable their above-and-beyond contribution and make them the best that they can be. The operations director for one of the brands led the way in demonstrating the ‘mind shift’ made by most of those present when, at the end of the session, he deleted his 30-slide presentation on the year’s targets and instead showed a single slide. It read: “Everyone has a contribution to make. How can I help you make your contribution?” He received a standing ovation for his commitment to serving down the line. The next 18 months was about translating this into action.


The initial leadership assessment (via leadership profiles) diagnosed the current state of leadership against the criteria for leadership excellence, thus holding up a mirror to leaders, and acting as a catalyst for change.

It provided a baseline measure, both individually and collectively, of the current degree of alignment against the criteria of Care, Means, Ability and Accountability as well as a reading of what was happening with respect to leadership ‘on the ground’.

The overall picture was of an intensely results-driven environment, where people were the resources to achieve the results. More specifically the leadership audit revealed the following reality.

    • Managers were not seen to care about the welfare of their people.
    • People respected their managers but did not feel respected by them.
    • Despite managers being in the field most days in the month, their people did not feel that they spent sufficient time with them.
    • Store managers were not empowered to run their stores.
    • The obsession with measurement meant that store managers were forced to report three times a day on the numbers.
    • There was little coaching, guidance or support.

The 1.5-hour one-on-one feedback sessions on their profiles gave each leader clarity on the shifts in behaviour and leadership practice that they needed to make. The overall results also informed the choice of Application Modules and Review Sessions to be run on a drip-feed basis over the next six-month period.



Application Modules deepen leaders’ understanding of the framework and provide the tools and skills to translate the model into practice. Between each workshop leaders are tasked with applying what they have learned in the workplace – they share their experience with their colleagues in a structured review session before engaging with another aspect of the framework. In this process of ongoing insight, practice and feedback they gain both competence and confidence in this way of leading.

The primary insights and behavioural shifts over the six months are outlined below.


Application Module Primary Insights and Mindset Shifts Behavioural Shifts and Changes in Leadership Practice
1.   Earning Trust Through Care, Time And Attention – ‘take care of your people and they will take care of your business’.
  •  People trust people who care about them.
  • Care is definitely not a ‘soft’ and ‘fluffy’ thing.
  • You can’t care for someone if you don’t know what makes them ‘tick’.
  • Care and growth are face-to-face activities – they happen in one-on-one and team meetings and when ‘watching the game’.
  • There should be equal time given to all direct reports but what the leader needs to ‘give’ will differ according to individuals’ needs.
  • Seeing and getting to know the human being behind the human resource.
  • Spending time with the middle and small stores – not just the big or high-turnover stores.
  • Giving people undivided attention by closing the laptop and switching off the phone when in the store.
  • Making the focus the people not the KPIs.
  • Demonstrating appropriate care (tough love).
  • Having one-on-ones where the direct report sets the agenda not his/her manager.

2.  Increasing Impact By Clarifying Contribution  –       ‘there is no such thing as a confused, productive employee’.
  • Clarifying contribution is an enabler of contribution.
  • People should be held accountable for their contribution – what they have control over.
  •  Those in leadership positions should be held accountable primarily for the care and growth of direct reports.
  • Defining contribution for the next reporting period gives clarity, focus, enables proactivity and promotes business and individual growth.
  • Communicating and helping direct reports to understand the business results; teaching the store managers how to analyse their numbers.
  • Clarifying and agreeing the unique value add of each level in the hierarchy.
  • Collaboratively agreeing quality deliverables for all direct reports.
  • Holding leaders accountable, not for the KPIs, not for the state of the store or even for the performance of their staff in stores. Rather, holding them accountable for the calibre of their direct reports (e.g. accountable not for fixing a problem with merchandising but for enabling those in the stores to effectively manage the visuals in the store).

3.  Elevating Performance By Assessing, Enabling And Reviewing Contribution – ‘it is fine for a manager to have the same people as a year ago but not the have the same people the same’.
  • The measure of success of ‘watching the game’ is that the leader has a better understanding of what to GIVE the person to enable his/her contribution and growth.
  • When the standard has not been met, find out why.
  • Good leadership is about increasing the number of exemplary contributors and decreasing the number of poor contributors.
  • Leadership and employee action should match the contribution made.
  • Stopping store visits to examine only business performance and replacing them with store / area / regional manager visits with the focus on enabling and growing people.
  • Asking managers to talk about their direct reports, not to talk about their KPIs.
  • Finding out why people are failing and how to help them – rather than slapping them with a written warning for a poor audit.
  • Stopping rescuing people and rather enabling them.
  • Holding one-on-ones and team meetings where the focus is on progressing the person rather than progressing the work.
  • ‘Watching the game’ more and auditing less.

4.  Cultivating Accountability by Handing Over Controls –‘ the purpose of empowerment is to grow people’.
  • The more managers trust their people the more they are trusted.
  • Empowerment means letting them decide and living with their decisions – not your decisions.
  • The level of control which is exercised must be commensurate with the level of maturity of the person being empowered.
  • Empowerment implies the incremental suspension of control in order to enable.
  • Taking our hands off and starting to trust our people.
  • Deliberately identifying and pushing decision-making authority down the line.
  • Stopping doing our people’s jobs for them.
  • Following the 5 Steps To Empowerment when handing over accountability.

5.  Delivering A Step Change By Holding People Accountable – ‘when the leaves on the tree turn yellow don’t paint them green, water the roots’.
  • You only engage people’s will to contribute when you hold them accountable for their contribution.
  • When you do not hold people accountable you have no option but to institute a control.
  • People should be censured for carelessness and disciplined for deliberate malevolence.
  • Praise ‘careful’; reward ‘the extra mile’.
  • Finding the right balance between positive and negative accountability.
  • Seeing what is ‘right’ not only what is ‘wrong’.
  • Holding people accountable rather than imposing a control on everyone.
  • Removing people who are not capable from their roles.

A second assessment via repeat Leadership Profiles was done at the end of the process to assess what shifts in leadership behaviour and practice had been made. The results were stunning; the highlights of the repeat assessment are shown below.



  • The overall score had shifted by 0.5, which is significant especially given people’s raised expectations of their leaders’ alignment against the criteria.
  • There was a positive shift in all four categories (Care, Means, Ability, Accountability), with the biggest improvement being in Care.
  • 115 people felt that their manager’s leadership had improved in the last six months while 28 felt that their leader had stayed the same or got worse.
  • 14 out of 24 leaders had a higher score than 2017, with a further person remaining the same.
  • 60% of leaders were now seen as highly aligned to the Legitimate Leadership criteria, with a further 30% being viewed as relatively well aligned.



Direct reports’ perceptions of the significant shift in their managers’ intent, supported by tangible changes in their leadership practice, were endorsed in a series of interviews with a selection of leaders who participated in the process. Their response to three questions are given below.



  • It was about do, do, do because I know. Now I let them do the thinking.
  • It is not about me any more. I have suspended my agenda for theirs.
  • I am focusing on people, not the result. I am ‘fixing’ the people and leaving them to ‘fix’ the results.
  • I have got to know what makes my people ‘tick’ and have bonded with them on a deeper level.
  • I am focused on enabling my people’s contribution, not on obsessing about the results.



  • They feel that they are empowered to run their own business.
  • They are taking more accountability for their regions / areas / stores.
  • They are operating at a different level.
  • They are taking initiative / finding new and better ways of doing things.
  • They trust and are trusted more.


  • You can literally see the vibe and energy in the stores.
  • People feel more valued, cared for and empowered.
  • The new store was ready for opening in advance of the due date compared to people staying up all night and still opening boxes as customers walked through the door.
  • Store new account openings soared in a particular store.
  • A regional manager retained the top performer position despite competition from colleagues.

The above is a testimony to the leaders who widened not only an openness to a new way of leading but who put in the hard yards to turn their learnings into action.

As with all Legitimate Leadership interventions, the chain of causation was once again confirmed – namely, that only when leaders change do their people change. Then, and only then, are the results different.

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Clarifying Expectations And Watching The Game – The Antidote For Dangerous Assumptions

By Peter Jordan, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

When a manager engages a new-start he or she will inevitably have expectations. Many of these are likely to be legitimate, based on the new recruit’s prior experience, qualifications and other aspects, as explored in the recruitment process.

No recruitment process is however a substitute for a systematic and thorough “watching of the game” during the probation period. This diagnostic will bring to the fore any gaps in ability which may have been undetected during the recruitment process. Perhaps of greater importance, watching the new start’s game will reveal levels of energy and engagement (summarised as “willingness issues”) which are much more difficult to assess via recruitment instruments.

Similarly, the new employee will also have expectations related to his or her new position. The sooner these are made explicit via one-on-one meetings the better.

Legitimate Leadership maintains that business goals and objectives are the departure point for deciding priorities or what results need to be focused on right now. This provides the context for specifying the contribution required by each person to positively impact on the results to be achieved. This applies to everybody and a new start needs to be onboarded without delay.

About six months ago a senior manager in a client’s organisation introduced a new position into his support function structure. Previously, in his support function structure, this senior manager with professional qualifications had eight junior practitioners reporting to him. The dysfunctions of this flat structure were that there was too large a gap between the senior manager and his reports, leading to him being drawn constantly into routine matters and not giving enough attention to the higher-level requirements of his position.

The specification for the new position was for a professionally-qualified person with at least five years’ relevant experience. A person meeting these requirements was duly recruited. The intention was that the new recruit would manage the eight junior practitioners and make direct contributions at an intermediate level.

At the outset two potentially disastrous assumption were made. Firstly, that due to his previous experience, the new start would have the ability to deliver on the direct contributions allocated to him. Secondly, and more dangerously, that he would have a full understanding of what managing people entails and the knowledge and the skill to do so.

Having attended a Clarifying Expectations Application Module, the senior manager held a one-on-one meeting with his direct report to ensure that expectations were aligned. At the end of the meeting he felt distinctly uncomfortable as he was not convinced that his report had enough background on some of the direct contributions assigned to him or that standards were being maintained by the eight lower-level practitioners.

The senior manager then embarked on a watching the game exercise with both his direct and indirect reports. At the end of this his discomfort had escalated to grave concern. His department is subject to stringent legal and internal compliance requirements. In the four months that he had been focusing on the higher-level issues, standards had slipped to way below acceptable levels as they were no longer being reinforced by the intermediate manager. This left the senior manager exposed to disciplinary and even legal sanction. The ability gaps exposed regarding his direct report were obviously also of concern.

At a review session with Legitimate Leadership which followed shortly after his watching the game exercise the senior manager stated that he was immensely grateful that the Clarification of Expectations Module had happened when it did, so that he could detect the gaps and take corrective action before it was too late.

In terms of corrective actions, the senior manager immediately reinforced accountabilities and standards with the whole team. At a one-on-one meeting with the intermediate manager he clearly established that it was the accountability of his report to hold the lower-level practitioners accountable for delivering on standard or above. His failure to do so would lead to him being held accountable. The ability gaps were discussed, and mutual actions agreed to.

Going forward, the senior manager had learnt the value of watching the game, not least, when starting a new employee.

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Trust, Loyalty And Willingness When Overtime Without Pay Is Needed

By Josh Hayman, associate, Legitimate Leadership

“I am going to be asking you all to work really hard over the next few weeks. This is going to involve long hours, late nights, as well as weekend time – and I cannot pay you for any of the extra time you are going to spend at work. Furthermore, not many people will notice how hard we have worked.”

The view of the average manager is that employees are seldom happy to be told the above, and so the only way to get them to comply is to incentivise them, costing money, or compel them with threats of discipline if they don’t turn up for work.

The above comments were part of a briefing that an IT manager for one of our clients gave his staff as the organisation prepared for a large office move. His team was to be responsible for the IT infrastructure-related work that was to make the move successful.

All of what he told them was absolutely true, and related to me during one of our review discussions on applying the Legitimate Leadership Model in their business.

He also went on to tell his people the following: “The reason we are going to do this is so that every other employee who works here is able to get up, move buildings and sit down at their new desk and continue working. That people haven’t noticed our contribution is going to be a sign that we have done our job well.”

He then went on to hold a discussion about what his team thought might be difficult or challenging about this, and agreed with them how they would support each other in dealing with – among other things – creating space for team members to deal with important family commitments and/or emergencies as they arose.

So I asked the IT manager how it actually went. He replied: “Everybody worked hard, stayed late, worked weekends, and in general made an above-and-beyond contribution that I am very proud of.”

When I first met IT manager, I was giving him feedback on a leadership profile exercise we had just done with his people. He was fairly new in the organisation, and his view was that there was lots of opportunity for improvement in the contribution that his section was making to the business.

It was clear to him from the outset that spending time building personal relationships with his people was going to be one of the main priorities.

The Legitimate Leadership Model is a framework for understanding how trust, loyalty and willingness function in the workplace – and he understood that successfully asking your people for an above-and-beyond contribution is built on earning trust, and that this is done by getting to know your people as people, spending quality time with them, and suspending your interests for theirs.

Over the next few months, this is what he set about doing, and the result was a tangible increase in the willingness of his people to go above and beyond expectation. He said that had this office move happened a year previously, he would not have succeeded with them, and would probably have had to threaten them with a stick to achieve any sort of compliance.

He is certainly correct. The reason is that he had not by then earned the consent of his people to being led by them. It takes time to build, and when you have it, you have to keep it by continuing to be straight and honest with people.

“When I briefed them on the project I was frankly worried about their willingness to work overtime without pay, but I decided that being absolutely straight with them about what was required, how it would affect them, what I could and couldn’t do for them in terms of pay, and also why it was so important for them to make the contribution, was the most appropriate thing to do.”

In this project, the IT manager demonstrated the direct relationship between earning trust and the product of this, which is an improvement in the willingness of people to make an above-and-beyond contribution to the organisation.