An authentic lead

4 September 2017

Fundamental to the concept of leadership is accountability. At this time wherein we find ourselves, accountability has extended way beyond simple success or failure. Accountability now includes in addition, ethical governance, the mental and physical wellbeing of the employees, respect for the local community as well as respect for the extended environment.

The traditional prescriptive leadership of old will not make the cut as required by these wholistic requirements. Prescriptive leadership can best be summarized by a narrow top-down structure where defined work or deliverables need to be completed in regulation time and in regulation manner. Feedback is not invited and the motto of management is deliver ‘our way, or the highway’. This is sometimes referred to mathematically as FIFO (fit in or f*ck off!). It is a non-inclusive management style and structure where advancement of the individual is based on toeing the company line. Any attempt at contributing value over and above the prescribed work is referred to as ‘chirping’ and is frowned upon. Consequently the archetype of the individual that rises to the top and eventually assumes the highest levels of management is the narrow prescriber. And so the style and structures are perpetuated.

On the Friday of the fateful week in 2008 when the markets tanked, I was called to provide a coaching session for the CEO of one of our large banks. It was not a pretty sight. He was raging. Hair dishevelled and with clenched fists, he yelled out at me as he slammed the office suite door closed, “They want to know what I’m going to do with their money. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my own f*cking money!”

I suggested that we have a whiskey (a damn good whiskey at that, as only banks can afford!). Then we spoke about this and that. Gradually he settled down. And then without prompting he made a statement. “I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot!”

“How so?” I replied.

“We have such great guys working in this bank but we don’t have a structure that allows them to contribute input or supports them in reaching their fullest potential.” He said.

That marked the start of a complete re-organization of the bank in terms of management style and structure. The bank was to double in size and be awarded the most innovative electronic bank in the world.

To be an authentic leader and to fulfill all the facets of accountability one needs to be familiar with and apply several tiers of behaviour. Tier one, the foundation of this multi-tier structure, is a non-judgemental sensitivity, awareness and respect for self, others and the environment. The environment includes the internal company culture as well as the external space which incorporates the potential market, competitors and the community at large. ‘Non-judgemental sensitivity’ needs to be more clearly defined: We are all subjective beings with unique nature-nurture heritages. With this subjectivity we go out into the big bad world and exercise our subjective judgements and make our subjective choices, for better or for worse. At the core of this behavior are three modes of engagement – deletion, distortion and generalization (the NLP violations).

These modes enable us to make sense of the multiple inputs from the environment, but unfortunately also compromise the accuracy of our perception. These modes then become violations which are driven by the limiting beliefs of our subjectivity. Thus deletion is required when we are bombarded with excessive information. But deletion also occurs when information threatens the familiar beliefs of our comfort zone. The inconvenient/unmanageable parts are surgically excised! Similarly with distortion – inconvenient information is manipulated to fit into our subjective comfort zone. The individual legitimizes this process or enables the process by discrediting the inconvenient information. In this way ‘judging’ is replaced by ‘judgementalism’ – a disparaging view taken of presenting information so as to discredit it, so that it does not threaten the status quo of the comfort zone.

The last of the modes or violations is generalization. This is the logical way of managing large bytes of data. But there are always many exceptions to the generalization of the environment. The problem is that everything gets painted with the same brush and consequently there are entities which are incorrectly perceived and labeled. And the mounting cases of wrongly perceived entities only adds to, and re-enforces the intrinsic perception bias.

Only once this fundamental tier is defined and the violations neutralized to enable non-judgemental sensitivity, can we add the next tier. This is the value contribution tier – making self, others and the extended environment, better than it was before you engaged. It is a logical consequence that if we are authentically sensitive, fully aware and respectful of ourselves and all that we are; fully sensitive, aware and respectful of all that our colleagues and employees are; fully sensitive and aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our products as well as sensitive to the market (including subtle trends) – then we will quite spontaneously contribute appropriate value to all the components so as to bring things closer to a point of success. Flowing from this value-based engagement is a more inclusive management style which not only invites input from employees but also rewards them. The entire internal environment, the company culture, and indeed the brand, become identified as respectful and inclusive. It becomes the rallying point for further success.

The final tier is gratitude. This is truly the mark of an authentic leader for it encompasses sensitivity, awareness, respect and value contribution. The gratification derived by this leader extends way beyond pure material gain. It is a gratification derived from the true mentorship of others such that the successful company entity is grown by growing its people, whose collective individual gratification in turn contributes to the whole.


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15 July 2018
Indulge in the virtues of stoicism

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12 May 2018
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27 April 2017

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Coaching to Pleasure

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Effective Intervention

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That 'Aha' Moment

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The Dangers of Cyber-space

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Systemic Degeneration

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Meaning and Purpose

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Medical Challenges