Written by Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership.

As managers, it is tempting to divide our employees into two groups; “givers” and “takers”, those who take accountability and ownership and those who do not. We thank our lucky stars for the “givers” while we tear our hair out and feel despair for the “takers”.

We wonder whether the ratio of “givers”:”takers in our business is a matter of providence and therefore something beyond our power or agency…? Or whether it is possible to determine, or at least influence, the relative size of the two groups?

As Legitimate Leadership, our response to these questions – what we believe – is the following:

  • There are “givers” in any organisation – wonderful human beings who are just this way, always have been and always will be, irrespective or even despite those who lead them.
  • Equally, every organisation has its share of “takers” – unattractive specimens of humanity who are similarly just this way, always have been and always will be, even under exceptional leadership.
  • But undoubtedly the mix of “givers” and “takers” is not a matter of chance. “Givers” and “takers” are largely manufactured by those in charge of them. What people are is on the whole a reflection on those who exercise authority over them. Beyond a shadow of a doubt “givers” beget “givers” and “takers” beget “takers”.

Our experience, consistently over the past three decades, is that those leaders who deliver on the criteria for legitimate power – have a sincere and genuine interest in (care) for their people and enable them to realise the best in themselves (growth) – are those who realise people at work who are accountable and take ownership.

They do so because, as leaders, they are characterised by the following:

  • They are COMMITTED to their people and as a result engender their people’s commitment to the organisation. Being committed to their people does not necessarily mean that they offer them an equity stake in the business or even permanent employment. Rather, they take a personal interest in their welfare; they genuinely care about them as human beings, not human resources.
  • They ROLE MODEL the very qualities they would like to see in their people; they exemplify accountability and ownership. Leaders who are not motivated, who lack passion and resolve are unlikely to command the opposite in their people.
  • They INSPIRE dedication in their people by giving them a “why” which is worth rising above their self interest for. This “why” is not an ROI to shareholders but an opportunity to contribute to making the world a better place. Inciting people to enrich the owners of an enterprise is not only not motivating but leads to hostility. A meaningful purpose, on the other hand, invigorates people to rise to the cause.
  • They not only seek their employees’ views and opinions but also TRUST them to get on with the job. People only take ownership when they feel free to express themselves openly and honestly and when they are given the freedom to operate. Control and accountability, in other words, are mutually exclusive. You can have one or the other, but not both.
  • They are crystal CLEAR about what taking ownership looks like. They then make very sure that those who are accountable and take ownership are recognised and rewarded for doing so. Equally, that there is ACCOUNTABILITY or consequence for those who fail to do so.

There is some truth in the adage that people get the leaders that they deserve – but perhaps more truth in the statement that leaders get the people they deserve.