The Mothering & Fathering of Leadership in Organisations

The Mothering & Fathering of Leadership in Organisations

Establishing Trust & Authenticating Value are the two most important aspects of leading sustainable positive change through people in any organisation.

Dr. Paul Cummins (MSc, MBA – MD SeaChange, Ltd.)

Through inherent psychological processes and life experiences we are all fundamentally conditioned to behave according to our unde rlying attitudes, values and beliefs. Like an ice-berg, our visible behaviours are clear for all to see (although not often clear enough to ourselves), but beneath the water, our motivations are continuously in operation driving our visible behaviour. A common example can be seen by the majority of car-drivers on the roads who don’t consistently stay under the clear speed limits. Even though the required behaviour of travelling within the speed limit is enforced by law, visible through signage and known to people, often the underlying attitudes of road users such as ‘I am in a hurry so the rules don’t apply today’ or ‘I have never been caught out before, so the chances are I won’t at all’ or ‘I am sick of following rules, I want to feel free’ result in the unsafe behaviour of travelling above speed limits. The reality is that this phenomenon is prevalent in the majority of people across a number of cultures and situations.

To believe that these processes somehow ‘switch off’ as soon as people enter the workplace is a huge error. In fact, the workplace often provides the fuel to increase personal motivations to behave in non-conforming ways. Traditionally, organisational leaders and management teams try to address non-conformance through continuously policing it. This involves huge time, cost, resources and energy to devise procedures, documents, sign-offs, training and policing structures just to try and maintain compliance. While compliance and policies are critical, the problem is that organisations soley rely on this approach and focus too much on hammering the message home. Importantly, the biggest problem with the policing approach is not the huge cost, but the reality that people naturally strengthen their resistant attitudes as a result, and will head in a different direction at the slightest chance. And this is perfectly normal human behaviour. When people are blanket-bombed with an endless string of jargon-rich policies and rules to try and control their behaviour the following natural attitudes form; ‘management clearly don’t care about the reality of my job’, ‘this policy stuff is over the top’, ‘I was never involved in this, and will do the opposite when I get a chance’.

Inevitably, contradictions and management inconsistencies arise in organisations, where policies and procedures are not practical or supported and staff begin to mistrust this approach, and mistrust management. Staff also feel devalued seeing as the majority of policies are enforced without staff involvement in the process. Critically, this lack of trust and value results in attitudes leading to undesirable behaviour in the workplace. Shortcuts are taken where possible, the unsafe way becomes the norm and resistance is encouraged; all key factors in fostering an unhealthy organisational culture which will exponentially grow if people continue to mistrust the management message and feel devalued.

However all is not lost, because effective leadership will lead to sustainable culture growth, where the underlying attitudes are aligned with desired behaviours, where the management message is trusted, where people take ownership for best practice, where the attitude ‘the right way is the way we do things around here’ is encouraged and a sustainable culture grows from the ground up. The key is for a mental shift at the top to happen – leaders and key managers must take responsibility for establishing trust and value in the workplace, for communicating this message effectively, and for establishing structures to support this from the ground up. We are all conditioned to trust a consistent message (learned early from our father figures) and to feel valued through involvement and consideration (learned early from our mother figures). Organisations that establish trust and value can transform the workplace and ensure sustainable results. SeaChange have identified the factors leading to undesired behaviours, and have a way of measuring the current organisational position, designing solutions to achieve behavioural breakthroughs, and measuring progress over time.

The vast majority of people actively seek trust and value as core needs in any group, and most desire to behave according to expectations. Leadership must see the bigger picture, and management must manage accordingly. Ignoring such fundamental personal truths and group dynamics in organisations while trying to improve and grow would be like trying to walk with no legs. Some argue that human error is unavoidable, so why try to prevent it. This attitude is the biggest risk of all. Organisations can either adopt a sustainable leadership approach, or continue to drive a wedge that widens the gap. It is that simple.