I see it all the time – leaders abusing their power. Instead of enabling the business environment to enhance productivity and engender trust, they manipulate circumstances to suit their own needs. Because they have authority (and this is particularly true of the chief executive officer/managing director position), they have the ability to manoeuvre people like chess board pieces – eliminating those that don’t play their game and keeping “game-players” close to themselves. As such, talent and potential is deliberately overlooked to achieve a politically prudent environment. Diversity, particularly with people with contrary views, is shunned and a culture of “obedience” is established. Management and staff “obey” for fear of losing their jobs and “just keep their heads down” to avoid retribution. These same authoritarian-style managed businesses are often strangely successful on account of rigid performance expectations, but levels of anxiety and stress are typically high amongst employees. Staff turnover is accelerated, sick days become more frequent and the business wastes an enormous amount of money in the re-hiring process. Many in the senior team adopt the chief’s approach and treat their own divisional staff with disdain. A toxic environment has been bred.

To avoid toxicity and, in fact, rather build an environment that will engender willing productivity from all in the company, senior leadership needs to get back to the authentic basic leadership tenets of business, the same of which I have put into a “SCHEMED” (tongue in cheek) format. They are as follows:

  1. Serve – servant leadership enriches the lives of others, builds better organisations and ultimately creates a more just and fair environment. Robert K Greenleaf noted: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions… The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature”. A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
  2. Care – although personalised care definitely speaks to the authenticity of the leader, the leader’s responsibility is to grow organisational care. In other words, the organisational values are modelled in such a way by the leadership team so as to develop an environment that looks after and cares for customers, staff and resources. ”Whereas, until recently, caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them” Robert K Greenleaf.
  3. Hear – hear what your people are talking about and listen for feelings and ideas. Listening involves not just hearing the words that are said, but attempting to obtain a deep level of understanding. When employees sense that they have been understood, a platform is created for the leader to be understood too. Soliciting ideas and acting on them, or part of them, creates a sense of self-worth amongst employees where they feel that their contribution is valued. More ideas for improvement will be forthcoming as the quest for improvement takes hold.
  4. Engage – professional intimacy develops trust. Professional intimacy concerns developing robust and meaningful relationships at all levels within the organisation. It recognises personhood, contribution and expresses dignity and respect. It demonstrates, on the one side, an appreciation of the fragility of the human being and, on the other side, a belief in the tenacity, resilience and potential of all. It fundamentally encourages a sense of ownership, accountability and responsibility.
  5. Manage – manage processes, systems and expectations, not people. People need to be led, not managed. Leading involves the setting of vision, communication of the strategy, inspiration and discussions around “how well we are doing”. To manage well, facilitate conversations around performance, productivity, processes and optimal utilisation of resources, even if it means dealing with ambiguity. Hardly anything in business is “cut and dried”.
  6. Enable – by strategically placing people in areas of the business where they can use their giftedness freely and optimally, the leader facilitates focus and enables energy to be applied appropriately. Resources should be modern and reliable. The Information Technology platform should be designed around the measures which lead to business success and should enable ease of reporting on key business indicators.
  7. Direct – board involvement, strategy innovation, planning, culture creation, business growth, brand enhancement, reputation and corporate governance are all involved here. Regular moments of senior leadership interaction, keeping accountability and the clarification of expectations are necessary to draw out the best in everyone.

Getting back to leadership basics in business prevents a toxic environment from forming and enhances discretionary effort from all employees. Ideas start flowing and productivity increases as people feel valued. The overall health of the business will be developed.