A few years ago I was on a family vacation. At the resort was an elderly African gentleman who was security at the front gate. We were there for a few days and upon leaving, he approached my wife and I and asked if the two young boys were our children. We answered yes and he said that he just wanted to thank us. I must say we were intrigued and asked him why.
He told us that he sees many people come in and out of the resort and it feels like he is not really noticed. People just seem to take for granted that he is the security. However, our children, since the time we arrived had come to him every morning, greeted him and asked how he was doing. He said that he really appreciated this. They were 8 and 9 years at the time.
A parent and a leader
Simon Sinek, who studied cultural anthropology and wrote the inspirational leadership book ‘Start with Why’, was recently interviewed in a talk show where he equated leadership to parenting. He asked “Are you a good parent and, in turn, are you translating this into good leadership?”
The idea that he put forward is that good leaders should view their employees as their children. In so doing, everything they do for them is done with love and done with the interest of the employee first.
Just like good parents, good leaders want to see their employees grow, be educated and successful, and achieve remarkable things. They want to see employees discover the best of themselves and do better than they have done. This requires the leader to be present and, more importantly, consistent in his interactions with employees.
Children need their parents to be present and available. They need the stability and security of a nurturing relationship for their overall well-being. At the same time they learn from the consistent actions and words of their parents. All these build trust.
Employees are no different says Sinek. He asks an important question of leaders: What behavior do you sanction by your own behaviours as a leader? For example a leader should be a role model as to the kind of behaviours expected of employees. If the leader fiddles expense accounts, comes late to work or is rude to people, he or she should expect no less from employees.
The credible leader
To win the hearts and minds of people, the leader must be credible at all times; inconsistency compromises credibility. Unfortunately, many modern leaders tackle problems with intensity, focusing on short- term thinking and quick fixes. They ‘preach’ a value of caring to get employees buy-in but when the chips are down, act in the exact opposite way.
Sinek makes the point that good leaders must be consistent in their behaviour. In that way they build trust which allows the leader to make mistakes and still retain loyalty. As he puts it “Do things consistently well and you earn the capacity to make mistakes every now and then.”
Sinek equates lay-offs (retrenchment) when the profit margins are not good to a parent selling or getting rid of a child when times are tough. In a family a responsible parent would never dream of making such a decision. As Sinek puts it, how can people trust a leader if he would rather ‘keep the Mercedes Benz before the child!’ Retrenchments are a modern day thing and are not indicative of a caring culture nor of a caring leadership. This is the inconsistency in leadership that employees see.
This kind of behaviour is understandable though because CEOs are often incentivised to grow their company and not the people. They are rewarded for volatility not stability, as the former is a more secure bet for short-term profit. The end result though is a company of people who do not trust the leader, as they take their cue from him or her.
Leadership is an investment
Modern business requires immediate results but building trust and commitment through leadership takes time and it has to be done with faith. It is not possible to measure the impact of leadership on a daily basis. Leadership happens over time and through the consistent behaviours of the leader.
Like parenting, sometimes it can take years before the cumulative effect of good leadership is seen. This means that the leader has to have the courage to allow his people to try new things, to make decisions and take risks, while all the time caring for their well-being.
Just like parents, leaders don’t ask when they can help, they are always helping – nurturing and developing the potential that they believe their employees possess. Their objective is to get the best out of their people and helping them to bring out the best in themselves. A leader’s success ultimately should not be measured by the profit of the organisation, but rather by the people who want to come to work (i.e. the number of engaged employees in the organisation). If employees are engaged in their work research has shown that it will translate into bottom line results.
I felt really proud, as a parent, to hear the words of the old security guard about my children. It confirmed for my wife and I that we were investing leadership with our children. They were young and probably did not understand the impact of their interest in the old man, but they understood that no matter the person or the position, it is important to ‘love them’. It is something I will never forget.
Bruniquel & Associates