Keynote address by Leonie van Tonder, COO of Afrika Tikkun, to the recent Legitimate Leadership breakfast on this topic.

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Of all the tasks a leader must practise, choosing staff at any level is one of the most challenging – and so very often disappointing, Leonie said.

Building and maintaining trust is sacrosanct, she said, quoting Wendy Lambourne of Legitimate Leadership: “Trust is the currency by which you buy Legitimate Leadership.”

Firstly, Leonie said, “Listen to the language people talk! Measure the answers/statements the person gives against the fundamental shift required for a person to move from taking to giving: Legitimacy, Trust, Contribution and Accountability.”

“As Legitimate Leadership proponents we say:

“The collective leadership of the organisation MUST BE seen to be legitimate and have the support of the majority of employees to being led by them.

“At an organisational level we help effect a change in what are means and ends. We enable those in leadership positions to serve their people, who in turn serve their customers.

“At a team level we cultivate team members who are prepared to subordinate their own interests for the bigger interests of the team and who deliberately set up their colleagues to succeed.

“At the individual level, we foster people whose focus is on what they can give or contribute. We grow a company whose people are concerned with what they owe others and whose behaviour is primarily values- rather than needs-driven; who do what is right rather than what is expedient.”

It is of course, she said, “so much easier to look for these characteristics when we employ or promote people than trying to cultivate them later, sometimes on a non-receptive base.”

Leonie said that in a quest to “tell the audience something they did not already know”, her solution was to share her own habits learnt over more than five decades of work, and the habits of others that she had learnt about.

Leonie’s pointers were:

When You Interview People Or Deal With Them On A Daily Basis …

  • How do you judge a limp/dead fish hand shake?
  • Is the attire appropriate – clubbing/ holiday/business?
  • Is the person on time?
  • Is the person’s cell phone turned off?
  • Does he/she start every sentence with “to be honest …”?
  • Does he/she use the word “respectfully” and go ahead and insult somebody?
  • Does he/she complain about previous company and not getting opportunities?
  • Will he/she use the interview and a possible offer to go and blackmail his/her current company?
  • Do he/she speak freely about disability/possible failures/self-censureship?
  • More interested in title than job content?
  • More interested in pay than responsibilities?
  • Is the person involved in the community/corporate social investment?
  • Do you feel energised by the conversation?
  • Does time pass by so quickly that you need to book a second appointment?
  • Does the person call people “human resources” (or “human capital”)?
  • What does the person say about learning and training for self and others? Father James Keeler said: “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
  • Does the person display loyalty for previous/present boss/company?
  • Is the person a pessimist or an optimist. A pessimist is a person who regardless of the present is disappointed with the future.

Look Out For Anti-Success Syndrome People …

  • “I did not study because of financial constraints …”
  • All words no action …
  • “When my ship comes in …”
  • Entitlement – wanting something for nothing wanted, usually from the company.
  • Too old syndrome …
  • “I’m not qualified …”
  • “Whatever happens, happens – life is a bitch and then you die …”
  • “In the hands of the gods …”
  • “I don’t get the breaks … others are favoured.”
  • All-mapped-out syndrome – needs a detailed instruction manual from the start.
  • My-time-will-come syndrome … time runs out.
  • Only happens to me syndrome …
  • “Always been unlucky …”
  • “I’m only average …”
  • “Someday soon …”
  • “If I only had confidence …”
  • “What’s the point …?”

General Knowledge …

  • What was the exchange rate this morning?
  • Who is the minister of finance/health?
  • Who is the leader of the Democratic Party in the US?
  • Who are the two main contenders in the American presidential election?
  • Who won the Euro football tournament?

Some Provocative Questions …

  • Have you ever fired anybody? Look for self-assessment of decision.
  • What do you do when you do not agree with your boss?
  • Do you read the newspaper every day?
  • What books do you read?
  • What films do you like to watch?
  • Your best ever film?
  • Is music important in your life?

Qualities …

  • How do you measure integrity (definition: what you do at 3am when it is dark and nobody is watching)?
  • How do you measure credibility?
  • Can I trust this person with my company/clients/beneficiaries?
  • What happens if you measure the person against the values of your company?
  • Is this a team player or a one-man band (no1 in team)?
  • Is this a worker or a clock watcher?
  • Is this a political player?
  • Is this a gossiper that will keep the grapevine going?

What Are You Looking For?

  • A well rounded person that can add value to your organisation.
  • A person with compassion/empathy that is appropriate.
  • Passion that can be directed.
  • Talent that can be mined.
  • Commitment that will produce a loyal employee.
  • A track record that speaks of consistency/sustainability.
  • A role model for giving at the highest level.

Why Do Managers Fail?

  • Status before results.
  • Do not execute duties.
  • Do not hold direct reports accountable.
  • No decisive action – fear of failure.
  • Desire for harmony.
  • Desire for invulnerability.
  • Lack of testicular fortitude.
  • Lack of care – prepared to live with mediocrity and poor attitude.
  • Not able to – lack of skill and knowledge.
  • Not allowed to – environment is restrictive.

How Do You Remedy This?

  • Trust people with your ego; invulnerability is not obtainable
  • Clarity is more important than 100% accuracy.
  • Encourage your people to air their differences – lively meetings are often a sign of progress and health.
  • Accept responsibility for whatever you do or don’t do – be somebody that other people want to be around and learn from.
  • Do whatever you do with all your heart – you will be dead for a long time, you can rest then.
  • Work for the long term respect of your people, not their affection.
  • Remember one has integrity and one earns respect and credibility
  • However important you become (in your own eyes) don’t lose yourself in the process—stay the same person who started the journey.
  • Keep your feet on the mother earth – it is the only stability you can bank on.

In conclusion, Leonie quoted St Francis of Assisi, who said: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.”