The leader and her most important tool – the team

In our first three articles we argued that leadership is an essential life skill that we all need to succeed, that it can be learnt, and that results matter, regardless of culture, organisation or context. We also suggested that the one thing without which you cannot lead is power.

Whether this power is derived from your position or the credibility you enjoy with others, or both, it is power nonetheless. It is this very power that leaders use to influence people as they execute the basics – that is, deciding what should be done, by whom, and how they can be mobilised and supported to succeed. And, as we pointed out in our last article, great leaders are those who get the basics right, consistently, across many variations of context and complexity.

It all boils down to…

Fundamentally then, leadership is about achieving results through the efforts of other people. Practically everything a leader does requires getting people to align and enroll or, stated differently, to buy in, to understand, and to accept your ideas, initiatives and plans. And of course, it requires people to act on these plans and deliver the required results.

Alignment means that our efforts are aimed at the same outcome. Enrollment is an emotional commitment to the plan and the result. Without enrollment, the best you can hope for is compliance. Without alignment, even your most passionate supporter can create chaos.

How can you build alignment and enrollment?

  • Make sure there is ownership. If people are involved in the decisions that affect them, there is a commensurate increase in emotional ownership and commitment to see them through to implementation.
  • Understand the consequences. The higher the stakes, the higher the need for understanding and acceptance.
  • Assess your people’s readiness. Everything you do to create understanding and acceptance is so much more effective if you tailor it to people’s levels of competence and motivation.

It starts with strengthening your own credibility and trustworthiness

Throughout our discussions we have tried to show that the trust between leader and follower is at the heart of a constructive, functional and productive relationship. To build your trustworthiness and credibility, practice your humility by making others the centre of attention, treating them with respect and dignity, ensuring consistency of thoughts and actions, and being willing to admit your mistakes. But also, work on your professional will by maintaining your drive to succeed, remaining focused on the outcomes, and delivering on your promises. Underpin this with an honest attempt to nurture and grow your own skills and ability to change and renew.

What about motivation?

Conventional wisdom (and research) holds the belief that leaders inspire people to perform by providing recognition, growth opportunity, safety, discipline, delegated power, among a list of factors designed to create a motivated workforce.

While there is certain merit in this belief, it is also flawed because it ignores the very essence of the individual’s motivation to perform (or not to, for that matter). Motivation is a state of mind , one that causes an individual to be positively disposed towards doing something, thereby inducing energy and action or, conversely, negatively disposed and wanting to avoid something. Individuals have the right (and obligation) to decide and take ownership of their own state of mind.

You are not the savior who will mysteriously motivate people. You have a shared responsibility – not the exclusive right or obligation – to create environments wherein individuals and teams can excel, take ownership for their feelings, attitudes and motivation, and decide to engage constructively. It is a shared responsibility, because your people should carry equal responsibility for their performance and the many ways in which they can influence it – they are not merely the passive recipients of ‘the magic medicine’ dispensed by leaders.

The leader and her people can be a formidable, winning combination. Yes, the leader cannot achieve results other than through the actions of her people, and therefore has an important obligation, namely to build alignment and enrollment. But this starts with self, and carries through to a genuine, authentic display of humility and the will to succeed.

Ian Dean ([email protected]) is an independent consultant and a scholar of leadership. He works internationally to help organisations improve the performance of their leaders and businesses. Hennie du Plessis ([email protected]) works as a strategy and performance consultant and uses his corporate experience to help drive positive change in organisations. This the fourth in a series of six articles How we made it in Africa will publish over the next two months in which they share their insights on leadership.