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Leadership: It is what you allow that grows – Part 1

Leadership: It is what you allow that grows – Part 1

Some time ago, a protégé who is a regional sales manager in an organisation reached out to me to complain about the attitude of his team members. He was just posted to the region and was alarmed by the lethargic nature of the team. He said there was no urgency to work, and every attempt to make them see the need to be agile for the purpose of getting results is always met with stiff opposition. I smiled, and I told him he was the cause. He asked in bewilderment, “Why?” I told him that whatever happens under your leadership is whatever you allow. Your leadership position has been given to you to shape people into how you want them to behave.

First, you are expected to show them by example. However, you may need to add one or two things depending on the characters of the people you lead. I decided to share one of my personal stories with him. On resumption in a new region some years ago, I said to one of the distributors, I want each salesman to be given a commission on every case of a product sold. I told her that I believe they will sell more when there is motivation.

Another thing I did was to personally give incentives for every new outlet any of the salesmen developed. This is called the carrot approach to leadership. It is looking for motivation to make the followers achieve a particular level of behaviour or attitude. This approach resulted in the team going out of their way to achieve the expected results. These were men who were always returning to the warehouse after a few hours of sales complaining that there were no sales, but after this “carrot approach,” they were always staying in the field till very late with excellent sales to report.

Also, I explained to him that there is the stick method. It is a method of management where people are punished for bad behaviour. The style you use depends on the kind of people you are leading. I rounded up my counselling session with him by telling him that it is what you allow in your team that grows. If a certain behaviour is found amongst your team members, it is a sign that you allowed it. If backbiting is the order of the day in your department, it is a sign that you allowed it as the head of department. In leading people, either you use the carrot or you use the stick.

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In some cases, you adopt a mix of the two. Whether an organisation, department, family, state, or nation thrives or flounders often comes down to the virtues—or lack thereof—exemplified by those in leadership positions. The actions and attitudes of leaders in positions of power powerfully shape the culture and norms that permeate an organisation from top to bottom. When leaders model ethical conduct, accountability, and a commitment to excellence, it cultivates an environment of integrity, hard work, and success. However, when leaders display poor virtues, it gives license for negative behaviour to fester and drag the entire enterprise into a downward spiral. You, as the leader, have a lot to do with how your department, family, organisation, state, or nation behaves.

Apart from the personal experience shared above, another prime example is found in Alan Mulally‘s celebrated turnaround of FFord Motor Company in 2006. Inheriting a corporate culture rife with infighting, finger-pointing, and unproductive silos, Mulally made rebuilding a foundation of trust and transparency his top priority. He instilled strict, disciplined communication, routinely reviewing every area’s performance metrics with unflinching candour. He instituted accountability using a data-driven approach.

No more hiding bad news or shifting blame. Mulally demanded that problems be openly surfaced and addressed. His leadership virtues of honesty, humility, and relentless focus on facts over egos created an organisational culture of mutual respect and collective responsibility. Wherever an organisation ends is largely traceable to the leadership. Either it ends with a good outing, which the leader always takes credit for, or it is a disastrous performance, and the leader must be ready to take responsibility.

Oluwole Dada is the General Manager at SecureID Limited, Africa;s largest smart card manufacturing company in Nigeria.