Excellence is mostly a matter of balance. As Aristotle said wisely, the challenge is not only to do the right thing, but to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. This is the hallmark of a good leader; one who inherently knows what the ‘right thing’ is and how it is to be done at any given time as the situation presents itself. Today with the speed of change as rapid as it is, it requires leaders to possess high levels of discernment and adaptability. The leader’s ability to balance compliance for good order with the freedom that precedes commitment, is one of the most critical reasons behind his success or failure. As parents we experience how difficult it is to guide our children with the right mix of do’s and don’ts on the one hand, against the freedom of allowing our children to make their own decisions and mistakes on the other.
Prescriptive Action Stifles Responsibility And Productivity
From an employee’s perspective, it is de-motivating to have a manager who constantly points to the rules and regulations book, or ‘tick-boxing’ individual’s performance requirements and score sheets. Most often, it is very difficult to commit to a cause and find inner alignment with one’s work if an employee — or any other subordinate — feels they are constantly under threat. From a manager’s perspective, understandably it may be important to have order with minimum disruptions, and as much control as possible. That being said, it is an obvious and age-old dilemma that control and passion, or in business terms compliance and commitment stand opposite each other. In more authoritarian cultures or earlier times when people as a rule still had high respect for those in positions of power, they were generally willing to follow all instructions provided by their leaders, believing or trusting that their authorities knew better. Their commitment relied upon the values of respect and loyalty. However, in contrast today the trend is that people have decreasing belief in authority and are becoming increasingly independent in their thoughts and beliefs. Many leaders, be they directors in a boardroom or managers in the operations, find it extremely difficult to adjust to the new world of decentralised power, with more employees who express their individual freedom and self-actualisation. These leaders still need to discover that the energy that comes from their employees’ personal commitment to work and their organisations is largely untapped.
Considering the manner in which our modern day work and social practices have changed, ; the leader’s challenge is not to go from one extreme to another. Instead, a leader must find the right balance which satisfies the demands between; highly structured workplace regimes, maintaining acceptable productivity levels, meeting the challenges of compliance and all this whilst ensuring that the organisation’s strategic objectives are met. Clearly getting this balancing act right, requires careful thought, exemplary planning and a tremendous amount of self-discipline. In this vein and at a personal level, welearn how discipline and freedom should not (and need not) be enemies, but offers the most when these concepts are ‘in balance’ with the other. Similarly, as leaders have to learn how to correctly and appropriately balance compliance in our organisations with the freedom needed for employees to commit with passion and energy to their work and the cause of the organisation.
Getting The Balance Right / Earning Respect Through Inspiration
A leader who is consciously aware of balancing the demands placed upon the organisation, and who is able to deal with the many complexities found within the organisation, inherently contributes toward the ‘health’ of the organisation. Such a leader will acknowledge and emphasize the necessity for compliance and they will set the necessary goals in order to reach certain levels of compliance (as it is needed) to satisfy the key requirements from all the organisation’s stakeholders. In order to achieve goals of this nature, the leader will have ensured they have established robust organisational structures, ensured clarity of employee roles and duties, and encouraged personal stewardship. It is for these important principles that the leader earns respect from everyone. Good structure will always be important in the pursuit of a big vision. Clarity is needed to focus our energies where it will take us forward. As we become a more disciplined organisation we grow the principle of stewardship. As an organisation and as individuals; we are entrusted with intellect, resources, opportunities and service to others. There were others before us and there will be others after us. What is good for one is good for the other and by embracing the principle of stewardship we denounce entitlement. In this respect the leader practices responsible leadership.
When the leader contributes to the ‘health’ of the organisation, they emphasise commitment, mutual collaboration and engagement, including emotional, social and spiritual awareness and workplace creativity. Employees are generally more likely to commit to — and support — what they create based on what they value. Employees want to know and then see how the leader engages them on theorganisation’s journey. They want to experience an adventure as they are making their progress towards a meaningful and desired destination. They want a leader who takes them in his confidence by articulating their story, the highs and the lows, the usual and the unusual. In doing so everyone becomes aware of something bigger and more meaningful than their own position in the organisation. They discover that they have started to share the same values, and their individual and collective journey begins to take on a greater meaning, with more purpose that satisfies their reason for belonging within the organisation. Each day, employees have an inner desire to return to their workplace in order to continue co-creating ‘their story’ within the development of the organisation, and indeed themselves, Unsurprisingly, employees who are guided through their leader’s inspirational leadership are not in the slightest deterred from their mission even if their day at the office has been an uphill slog.
The way governance and leadership, compliance and commitment, so-called ‘hard and soft’ issues, discipline and freedom complement each other and minimalise risk can be illustrated as in the schematic.
Appealing To The Hearts Of People
In times of ‘flatter societies’ where hierarchical structures are less prevalent with greater individual freedom and empowerment, and the need for more meaningful engagement is sought after by the organisation’s stakeholders; achieving a state of compliance can only really be effective when it is not forced in a draconian manner. Recently in South Africa there are a number of examples where enforced compliance to matters such as the broad-based black empowerment and employment equity issues have indeed caused a number of counter-measure actions, and often leading to unintended consequences. Perhaps it would be more useful for leaders to understand – be they in business, government and indeed civil society – that a sledgehammer is not necessarily the only solution to a problem. In many instances, achieving the stated objective can also be attained when leaders decide not to force matters, but instead appeal to the hearts of people in the interest of a meaningful organisational story with both responsible and inspirational leaders as the main characters. As one can be proud of a neat room, a neat desk and healthy body, members of an organisation can be proud of doing things the right and agreed way. It is such a sense of pride that leaders should instill in the people through their own example and inspirational communication.
Author: Gerhard van Rensburg