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In a series of articles for Clubs WA, Richard Foulis explores the foundations of organisational health and the potential for building future leaders within the club environment.

These are exciting times for leaders in Australia. Never have we seen the rapid technological advancements in business that we saw during 2020. In a short space of time, the world of work adapted swiftly to meet social distancing rules (e.g. work from home). However, it is still  unfolding as to exactly how leaders and teams alike will interact and flourish in the longer term.

Leadership is about getting things done through people

Leadership is about getting things done through people and it can be done from anywhere within the organisation. Having positional power certainly helps – however, it isn’t always necessary in the context of getting things done through people. And currently, it isn’t just being done within the “physical walls” of the organisation but instead, virtually or perhaps even in a hybrid office/home environment.

No matter your context, good leadership impacts the health of an organisation.

Leadership and management are often confused as being the same thing and the terms have increasingly become interchangeable.  Argumentative? Sure, but that isn’t to say that somebody doesn’t do both in their role. In short, you lead a team, and you manage a budget.

The club environment offers a unique breeding ground for future leaders because of the inherent subservient nature of clubs: responsibility-centred as opposed to being reward-centred, if you like. Here is a place where positional power is somewhat irrelevant, given that most clubs are volunteer- based. It is a group of people with a common cause that needs structure to get things done – through people. They put together a plan for success (a strategy) and march forward tirelessly to bring it to life.

In this series, I will work through the foundational aspects of leadership, teams, culture, strategy which can be summed up as organisational health. A lot might appear to be common sense. However, common sense is not so common. All too often, organisations and leaders alike are blindsided by what can be termed a sophistication bias. It is easy to believe that becoming better must be a complex process, whereas what it really requires is uncommon levels of discipline and courage.

To kick the series off, there is no better place to start than the motivation behind someone becoming a leader.

What’s your motive?

Do you delegate, abdicate or avoid all together any of these five tasks or responsibilities?

  1. Developing your leadership team
  2. Managing subordinates (and coaching them to manage theirs)
  3. Having difficult and uncomfortable conversations
  4. Running great team meetings
  5. Communicating constantly and repetitively to employees

While this is not an exhaustive list of a leader’s responsibilities, these are the tasks that reward centred leaders find to be tedious, uncomfortable, or just difficult. On the other hand, the responsibility centred leader understands the importance of these duties and leans into them.

Responsibility versus Reward

“I’ve made it! All my hard work has paid off, and now I can breathe easier because I am here”.

Unfortunately, and all too often, gaining the position of Leader is seen to be a reward for hard work. And let’s not underestimate the work that has been achieved, however what is the motive for the ascension, and once in “power”, does that motive alter?

At a fundamental level, leaders are driven by two motives:

Think of motive on a continuum line, with responsibility on the far right and reward on the far left. Unlike most continuums, the ideal leader is going to be at the far right rather than somewhere in the middle.

We do have the means to shift our motive…

This might appear to be quite black and white – however, it is not. For most of us we are likely somewhere off-centre, and hopefully more to the right of centre. Our motive can shift, and in the negative sense slide down the continuum, succumbing to our deep-seated motives if not checked. However, we do have the means to shift our motive through awareness and coaching.

But before we talk about the ambitions of a responsibility-centred leader, let’s dive into the traits of reward-centred leaders.

Reward-centred leaders

The reward centred leader operates under the premise that their role should be convenient and enjoyable, all the time. There are roles and responsibilities that only a leader can address (see the list of five) so when they abdicate, delegate, or avoid these altogether, the  organisation suffers.

Supporting this view would be statements like:

“I employ adults here so I shouldn’t have to waste my time on these things”
“I trust who I hire”
“I don’t micromanage”
“I don’t have the time or energy to do that”
“Why would I take that on? I am the CEO”
“I don’t want to insult my team by constantly reminding them about …”
“I’m not into the team building stuff, HR can take care of that”
“Let’s take this offline” (i.e., I’m bored and don’t want to deal with this)
“I’m here if they need me for something but other than that, I get out of their way”

Perhaps you have heard a Leader say some of these things, or perhaps you have said them yourself, either out loud or in the privacy of your mind.

“Reward-centred leadership is the belief that being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable, free to choose what they want to work on and avoid anything mundane, unpleasant or uncomfortable.”
– Patrick Lencioni, author of The Motive

Responsibility-centred leaders

As you would imagine, the five tasks are not a chore for the responsibility-centred leader. First and foremost, and at the core of their purpose, is a sense of servant leadership.

This should not be interpreted as being a soft approach, as nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s take one example, that of having difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Specifically, addressing uncomfortable behavioural issues within the organisation or put another way, entering the danger. There isn’t a leader out there that hasn’t hesitated or ever been  apprehensive about addressing a confrontational issue. What takes uncommon levels of courage and discipline though is acting swiftly and with clarity. Putting the organisation’s needs ahead of their personal needs (of avoiding discomfort) is what a responsibility-centred leader will embrace.

“Responsibility centred leaders have the belief that being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging (though certainly not without moments of personal gratification).”
– Patrick Lencioni, author of The Motive

Ask yourself this question about your willingness to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations.

Would you rather “turn a blind eye” to a person’s difficult behaviour, shrug it off with a “he or she’s just like that” as opposed to having an awkward discussion with them?

If you answered yes, then this might well be an indication that your motive for leading needs to be adjusted. The alternative is to prepare for increasing levels of politics, morale issues and unwanted turnover of good people in your organisation.


Why is it so important to embrace the paradigm of being a responsibility-centred leader?

All too often, the reason for wanting to lead is rarely discussed and the enormous amount of material that is available on leadership, focuses on how to be a better leader. The trappings that come with being a leader – notoriety, power, and status – are attractive, and soon, leaders start “to believe their own press”. A disconnect occurs between the demands of leadership (for example, the five tasks mentioned above) and receiving the “trappings”.

Leaders who choose how to spend their time and energy based upon what they are going to get, rather than focusing on what they need to give to the people they lead, are not only dangerous but disturbingly common.

So what better starting point for a series on leadership than discussing the “why” and not the “how”?