Every organisational leader knows the importance of people in achieving strategic goals and building profitable entities. However, not all leaders have the right perspectives on their positions and roles in building sustainable organisations where people are engaged. Instead, they lead an increasing number of actively disengaged employees who want to exit at the next stop.
In several articles, I have posited my belief in an organisation’s culture as the launching pad for effective organisational leadership. A leader’s first job is defining, entrenching, and rewarding compliance with the organisation’s culture. Without a strong culture of innovation, drive, teamwork and excellence, strategies are lame dogs barking without the ability to bite. The role of leaders in aligning strategies with culture is a primordial and non-negotiable function. In the new age of employee wellbeing, the focus is changing. Employee engagement is fading out for employee fulfilment. The challenge of retaining employees is high. Leaders must carefully evaluate their decisions’ antecedents, behaviours, and consequences to make humble enquiries into what makes employees productive and engaged. With engagement and fulfilment, employees will deliver maximally for their employers.
Leaders must learn, change their perspectives, and be flexible to transform into visible and felt leadership, otherwise, building sustainability into organisation might be difficult.
In this series, I will review one primary delusional perspective of some organisational leaders and how this faulty belief is damaging the efforts to create an enabling and performance-oriented environment in the workplace. ‘If I am a leader, I can do what I want the way I want. If I am the Chairman, it is who or what I want’. This is a faulty perspective most people aspiring to leadership positions hold. Sympathetically, most founders and leaders of top organisations who have not examined their leadership antecedents and results also lead with this delusionary belief about their positions.
The leadership view or perspective leaders hold determines their focus and, ultimately, the level and impact of their influence. In Africa, we have a dysfunctional view of leadership. Everyone wants to get to a leadership position in the private or public sector to improve their lives, amass wealth, and wedge power the way they want. It is true that the positions come with power and influence; one must not foreclose the fact that it is also with a responsibility to deliver impacts to people.
I have observed how unsustainable some large owners-managed African organisations are being led. I have searched for African partnership businesses with over five decades of history of existence and am still searching but found none. The reasons our businesses never outlived their owners are obvious. Leaders fail to lay the right foundations and pillars for sustainable organisations that could be transformed into institutions and withstand the test of time through people. These pillars are the culture, policies and processes that exude fair treatment to the employees and stakeholders. Not only is establishing the building blocks important, but living them as a way of life by the leaders is key to keeping them alive and active in guiding behaviours and determining the level of sustainability of the organisations.
In one organisation, the chairman determines who to promote and whose salary to increase. Making the list for salary increments is about who the chairman knows and his perception of the contributions of those he relates with regularly. The organisation has a pool of disengaged employees who have been on the same salary for ten years without promotion or increment. To the chairman, the value he placed on these people ten years ago is the same as today, irrespective of inflation or change in the value of money. At intervals, the chairman increases the salary of a few of his inner circle by a discretionary percentage. To some, it is fifty per cent, and a hundred per cent was awarded in a few instances. If you are on the list of the errand employees of the chairman, you are on a life gold. The percentage of employees on the chairman’s life gold to the total employees is less than one per cent. One per cent is the supposedly engaged or fulfilled employees of the organisation. They are engaged and strive to get things done only for the chairman’s recognition and reward. They are not fulfilled because of the toxicity in the workplace environment due to the chairman’s entitlement perspective.
Everyone wants to get to a leadership position in the private or public sector to improve their lives, amass wealth, and wedge power the way they want. It is true that the positions come with power and influence; one must not foreclose the fact that it is also with a responsibility to deliver impacts to people.
In another organisation I have studied over the years, the leaders desire to share profits with their employees to motivate performance and achievement of targets. The ultimate leader’s belief is delusional. In her mind, employee A is a senior member, and I know him. All I need to do is to keep him satisfied. The leader will, therefore, give those recognised senior members and perceived loyal employees a share of the bonus running into millions of naira with an instruction to keep it secret and never to share or discuss it with their team. This was happening year on year. The employees’ morale is always down, given that the goose that laid the golden eggs is not rewarded with the bonus largess.
The El-Capitano of this organisation sees leadership as herself. Having visibility in the press and globally is more impressive to her than the sustainability of the company’s performance. All is fine if her wealth is increasing and her profile is on the rise. However, her organisation is losing market value and ranking among its peers.
The damage leaders do is to transfer their deficiencies to their proteges who believe the success of their leaders is from the way they do things only. Aspiring leaders need to reevaluate what they copy from their mentors constantly. One favourite deviation from the Bonus Eldorado in the above organisation was the existence of a dark horse. A man consistently violated the instructions to keep his bonus from his team. He will always share it with his team members. What made the difference was his perspective about his position. Leaders need help to do the work. They are to achieve results through and with people. The reward for a top-notch performance should permeate the team members involved.
What the leaders who hold dilutional views in the above examples should have done is to create a culture of performance, a system of reward and excellence that trickles down the organisation irrespective of who is known to the chairpersons or the ultimate leaders. Organisation performance and rewarding people who contribute to the bottom line go beyond people who are visible to the leaders. A system where anyone with performance output is thrown up for recognition is a sine non qua to building organisations with engaged and fulfilled employees.