What is your legitimacy to lead?

Today, as I watched the story unfold of the likely ‘coronation’ of Theresa May as the new Tory Party leader, I wondered what was her legitimacy to lead her party, and our nation?

MAL3ZLU54CAs someone from the left of the political divide, I’d maybe ask that question in any event. However, given the massive turbulence engulfing our nation presently, it also seemed a poignant question.

It led me to think more generally of leadership and legitimacy.

I wondered what are the underpinning elements to legitimacy?

I’ve identified three particular sets of questions, based on my direct experience.

First, how well do you revisit and re-establish your legitimacy by actually understanding what is needed by your audience, be that clients, consumers, users, or stakeholders? How often do you ask what are their expectations? How well do you act upon the feedback you receive? How does this lead to further improvements – in relationships, engagement, systems, processes and outcomes?

I have long been a practitioner of regular feedback, both planned and ad hoc. I have done it in every role undertaken. I believe in ‘walking the job’, or management by walking about, as it is sometimes known. There is no better way, in my view, to garner what people think and how they feel about a service you provide than asking them directly. It may take a little courage, but I’d heartily recommend it. What is more, that relationship is enhanced when you tell people what you did with their feedback. It may not always be a positive response, but sharing your reaction and actions builds a deeper, more meaningful relationship and trust grows. In my experience, this leads to a more efficient leadership of self, of your team and of the outcomes possible from the service you provide.

Second, how transparent are you in that leadership role? Do you make available the information about decisions made? Do you communicate the decisions made? Do you make it safe for whistleblowers? Do you provide permission and the right climate for challenges? Do you create an environment of trust and learning?

In my career, I have encountered a lot of secrecy. Too much secrecy! In fact, at times I have been ordered to secrecy when it was plainly better to be upfront. The cause – often ego or feelings, often people were too embarrassed to own things. I do not understand the point in engaging effectively with people, to then keep them in the dark. Occasionally, matters are sensitive, and then you need to exercise discretion or diplomacy. However, again in my experience, much of the secrecy was entirely misplaced. I advocate and practice openness and honesty, transparency and fairness, tact and diplomacy, but also calling a spade a large bloody shovel when needed.

Third, how self-aware are you and how much integrity do you possess? Do you act in a way that is explained by the values you espouse? How well are you able to defend your actions? How open to change are you? How much learning and development are you experiencing?

Over many years, I have invested in my development, both personally and professionally. I’ve had painful, amazing, and joyful learning processes. I’ve looked into my inner self, and I love who I am. I know I am not complete, and I am always open to learning. I believe in and practice honesty, respect and courtesy. There is no price for mere politeness, and yet it has the power to unlock relationships, build trust, and deliver better outcomes for those you serve. It also helps if you can use humour and you smile often.

Based on these questions and my experiences, it will be interesting to see how Ms May shapes up?

More importantly for me, I am keen to know how you respond to my thinking? Do these questions resonate with you? Do your reflections on the questions provide positive input to your growth and development?

[Tweet “I am completely in favour of dialogue and engagement. But it must be true, open dialogue. – Ma Jian”]

I am always interested in meaningful conversation, and I’d be delighted if you reach out to me. I am always happy to listen and ready to help.

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