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Stand for something or fall for everything

The discussions that happen in graduate school tend to be liberating to the mind, offering a platform for one to express their thoughts with minimal hindrance.

Sam Hlabati

The experience of being a part of such scholarly discourse soothes the numbness that makes one’s mind both reluctant to state what one believes in as well as bares one’s values.

I had the chance of being in mental wrestling bout with a number of liberated minds during a dialogue in a Systems Thinking graduate course. The topic before us was about how a leader could build trust in their leadership among their team.

Let me begin our discussion in this instalment by looking at what it means to be a principled leader as a basis for building leadership trust. The word principle denotes a moral rule or belief that helps one to know what is right and wrong; influencing one’s actions and decisions. The principle may denote a basic truth, theory or an idea that forms the raison d’etre of a decision or action.
If one wants to be more precise in meaning, one can defer to defining a principle as a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens. Being principled is then a state of being characterised by principle. In our discussion, leadership shall be assumed to relate to the role of having the responsibility to provide guidance and direction to a group of people.

In an instalment of this column, a few weeks back, we looked at the lesson that we could learn from Martin Luther King Jr. We focused on the importance of having a dream that would influence a vision underpinned by what the leader believes in. Martin Luther King Jr stood for his beliefs and made an impact. There is a saying that if one does not stand for something; they will certainly fall for anything. Let me share with you some of the key characteristics that we explored in the intellectual dialogue I mentioned above.

One of the characteristics of a principled leader is the consistency and predictability in their decision making and in the exercise of their discretion.

It is true that we also make decisions in the spur of the moment and our decisions would not always be exactly the same, in comparable but not consistently congruent circumstances. In this context, the word congruent is taking a near mathematical meaning of “having the same size and shape”.

While the decisions made by a leader are influenced by the prevailing contextual environment, a principled leader’s decisions would reveal a particular trend over time as their underlying values would not be changing. It can therefore be inferred that the level of a leader’s consistency and predictability can be measured by the magnitude of the variance between the various decisions they make in over a given period of time in comparable situations which may be or may not be consistently congruent.

Obviously, in totally congruent situations, a principled leader will make certainly repeat their decisions. The followers of a principled leader do not always wonder what the decision outcome from their leader would be in most non–exceptional situation.

Here is how to tell if you as a leader are consistent in your character as a lead. Can those directly under you make decisions on your behalf in routine situations without you feeling the need to sign off everything?

Does it often happen that when those under you make decisions on your behalf in your absence on routine issues you feel that they have erred as their decisions, even when they would in their own defence be pointing you the substance a previous decision that you as a leader made in a completely matching scenario. If this happens in the context where the one who would have the decision on your behalf being fully competent, then you as the leader could have inconsistency problems. It could be time for self-reflection.

The coping mechanism of inconsistent leaders who do not stand for particular values is to blame the team under them for incompetency. Wait big boss, the team could certainly be some of the best talent which you could get, yet you are criticising them; remember they came into the organisation for their exceptional success in their previous jobs.

Here is word of caution to you dear leader; do not brag about not being predictable, it is as good as climbing atop a hill then loudly proclaim that your sanity invades you on more occasions than you can remember.

One of the major killers of consistency in decision-making is fear of making unpopular decisions and then ultimately face the surmounting task of explaining the rationale for the decision to those affected. Whilst the contexts of both the internal and external environments have an impact on the appropriateness of a decision or an expressed view point, it is the relevance of the decision in terms of impartiality and consistency that matters more than its popularity.

A principled leader does not fear making unpopular decisions for as long as they clearly communicate their rationale for making such decisions to those affected by them. The character of being principled will be built over time through consistency of making principled decisions.

A leader’s principled decision-making capability is often compromised by surrounding oneself with close buddies; driven by nepotism and cronyism. Appointing your team according to their personal closeness to yourself as a leader makes it very difficult to make tough decisions that will affect the persons directly.

One can ask the question of what one should do in family businesses and when familiarity is part of neatly tied team. The issue is that being principled entails making tough decisions that are right for the organisation irrespective of the discomfort in the short term. Have you been true to what you believe in and have you stood by your espoused values in the face of criticism?

It’s important to note that the commitment to consistency and integrity, should start at the top and it is even more important to demonstrate that commitment through decisions and actions. Leaders should show their team employees that they are led by values by embracing espoused values, and this will go a long way towards building trust in the leadership.

As a leader, it is important to note that people around you will notice leaders who do what is right ahead of what is easy. Any good leader has to build consistence in doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. It is the work of a leader to do what is right rather than what is easy.

When a leader does what is right, the team will trust them for their clarity of intention. A leader needs to be clear about their mission, purpose in their daily activities. When a leader is clear about all these, they will likely get what they want done.

There is a kiSwahili saying which goes like this: Usibadili nia kwa jambo la kusikia. This means that one should not change one’s mind because of hearsay, but rather stand for what one believes in.

Let me take the opportunity to convey happy birthday wishes to President Robert Mugabe and myself on the day of the publication of this article on February 21 2014.

Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). — samhlabati@gmail.com; Twitter handle: @samhlabati

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