A beautiful evergreen tree graces the area outside my bedroom window – commonly called “Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow”, the endemic Brazilian brunfelsia pauciflora, with its mauve, lavender and white sweet-smelling flowers, provides a perfect picture for the onlooker and lovely aroma for one to drift off to sleep at night. Apparently, the tree gets its common name from the flowers which “change colour” each day – the first day they are mauve (yesterday), the second day they change to pastel lavender (today) and on the third day they transform again to white (tomorrow). While these flowers provide a truly spectacular display and offer many months of flowering, emitting their sweet-smelling fragrance, it is interesting to note that the plants also contain poisonous alkaloids. Seeds from the flowers and berries from the plants are especially toxic – caution needs to be taken with toddlers and the brown berries have been known to poison pets, symptoms including fever, vomiting, muscle tremors and seizures. Most nurseries advise a good trim after the flowering season to avoid berries forming and drying and thus causing a potential hazard.

It strikes me that many managers and even organisations exhibit the same characteristics as the “Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow” tree – well-packaged externally (they look good), but a toxicity exists internally which poisons their impact and creates a rather unpleasant environment for the staff in which to work. These managers may exhibit strong decision-making ability, determination, focus and may even dress and carry themselves well, but selfish power and positional desires drive behaviour that is manipulative and political in nature, causing employees to question genuineness, integrity and character. The ensuing environmental discomfort and insecurity that is subsequently bred has a huge negative impact on trust levels and ultimately on productivity as a whole. The organisational environment becomes toxic.

Great “leader” managers, those that leave lasting positive impact on others, use their internal strength of character to guide behaviour and interaction with others. This same character probably has some of the following dimensions:

  • Integrity – being a man or woman of your word. Actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes are all aligned in one’s behaviour and interactions with others. Here, virtue and honourableness are not questioned.
  • Consistency – having evenness in attitude and mood, a steadiness in decision-making and a stability in direction that engender trust and security. Employees know what to expect from the manager.
  • Servanthood – displaying empathy, kindness and compassion, attempting to meet the real needs of employees and perhaps even removing unnecessary obstacles which may hinder the possibility for high productivity.
  • A heart for development – creating the environment where growth is encouraged, where people are stretched to reach their potential and where successes and contribution are recognised.
  • Direction – having a clear picture of a desired future and being able to communicate the same frequently and well to all employees. Big picture information always helps staff focus on the issues that are mission-critical and avoids energy being consumed on the irrelevant.

Being a “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” manager – where the external looks good and even sounds good, but behaviour is driven from selfish motives, political and power desires and positional ambition – is going to lead to distrust and ultimately poison the work environment. Albert Einstein exhorts leaders: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value” – wise words perhaps to achieve a leadership that is truly sustainable.