Mary came to work on that cold winter’s morning in Johannesburg, South Africa, making use of the public transportation system as normal, but seemingly now with a spring in her step. Arriving with a broad grin and a warm greeting, she said: “Great day for work” (and really meant it). I smiled to myself as she settled down at her desk and immediately started tackling her tasks for the day. I had been noticing subtle changes in her attitude and behaviour over the past few months and had initially put it down to the commencement of a meaningful relationship or finding a new hobby or something similar. Later that morning, I found out that I was wrong – at tea, I dropped the question to her: “Mary, what’s changed in your approach to work? You are positively and actively participating in everything now”. A couple of months ago, Mary had been lethargic, disinterested and seemed to resist any form of encouragement to play alongside other team members with energy. She just ‘existed’ at the office. She now answered: “My manager has decided to ‘partner’ with me to achieve our targets – he now seeks my advice and even uses my ideas. We meet daily to chat about how to improve”. Mary’s manager, specifically the intentionality of his changed leadership approach, was reaping dividends with the effort he was putting into the relationship with his subordinate.

Leaders need to show up at work with a transformative disposition. This requires deliberate planning and actions that stimulate ownership and creativity in others. This disposition requires the following behaviour:

  • Leaders, themselves, being engaged – modelling engagement at all levels is an essential tone-setter. Gallup notes: “The leader is the key to an engaged workforce – not compensation and benefits”. Transformation can occur amongst employees if their leaders are transformed. Managers need to be force-multipliers of commitment and energy.
  • Making human dynamics the focus of transformation efforts – performance improvement, system changes and process tweaks will take place once ownership is experienced by all employees. Employees have underlying beliefs, attitudes and values that drive their behaviour (like: who they feel they can trust, how open management are to their ideas, whether they will be treated with dignity if they make mistakes, etc.) and these emotionally-orientated aspects of humanness need to be addressed by the leadership.
  • Unlocking latent potential – leaders have a responsibility to shift mind-sets and dismantle barriers that stand in the way of creativity being expressed. Some of these barriers may include: an authoritarian leadership style, lack of participation opportunities in meetings, sparse communication efforts, lack of clarity around vision and targets, withholding information, etc.). An environment needs to be created where all feel that they have a creative contribution to make.
  • Breaking down silos across the business – interdepartmental and/or relational silos within the company stand in the way of and impede communication flow throughout the business. Communication (of a dialogue nature) is essential between departments for improvements in performance and client service. The ability to give feedback constructively and without fear is developed within a context that exemplifies trust, ownership and transparency.
  • Pushing decision-making down to appropriate responsibility levels – decision-making that is vested in just a few people disempowers the rest. Whilst strategic decisions might go to the board for ratification, everyday decisions are taken by managers, supervisors and employees in an environment where people care (for the company, its goals and values and for each other). Even the cleaner, once expected outcomes are understood, should be able to make decisions about how the job is going to be done to achieve the goals.
  • Rewarding appropriately and celebrating successes – actively commit personal time and budget to recognising employees that outperform the expectations. Celebrate successes, no matter how small. Foster an environment where achievement is noticed.

Leaders need to show up at work with a transformative disposition. This equates to behaviour that is deliberately planned and well executed – behaviour that enhances the self-belief of employees and stimulates ownership and expressions of creativity right throughout the operation.