I have to signalise from the onset that I am not an expert on leadership topics but felt the need to contribute to current debate on leadership considering the current state of poor performance or poor service delivery at many public institutions – be it at school, church, ministerial departments or regional offices.
Many scholars globally agree that everything rises and falls on leadership. I had been troubled and always wondered how true the above statement is. The vexation I had was recently normalised after reading Maxwell`s (2013) book, titled ‘How successful people lead’, which is about the five (position, permission, production, people development & pinnacle) levels of leadership. I realised that the challenge we have as a country is that a majority of leaders at most public institutions considers their positions or titles more important than the people they lead or serve. Once they get the position or promotion, a majority thinks it have arrived forgetting that it is the time to start moving and taking others along with them.
Therefore, my interest will be based more on the first level of leadership, which talks about positional leadership to highlight the effects of this type of leadership on performance. Maxwell (2013) explains that positional leadership is based on the rights granted by the position and title.
He continues to postulates that the only influence a positional leader has is that which comes with the job title. Before I am crucified for any misinterpretation this article might lead to, I acknowledge that there are a few leaders in our land of the brave who are at the level of pinnacle leadership and steering their organisations to higher levels. Despite the few superlative leaders, a majority of leaders at many public institutions seems to be positional leaders, who only considers their positions/titles to be important than the people around them. These leaders are only interested in their own advancement and not of the group.
I have noticed that many leaders in our beautiful country use their positions to influence or dictate their sub-ordinates; they boost about their titles and even about their wealth in the absence of any tangible results.
For those who understand leadership, using positions to influence team members is a poor substitute for influence. For me, influence should rather be based on the production (what you, as a leader, are doing at the institution). Those leaders who are members of this club, using positions as an influential tool, are bosses and not leaders. These leaders have sub-ordinates and not team members. They rely on rules, regulations, policies and organisational charts to control their people. Innovation does not exist in their dictionaries. If challenged by any circumstances, they only resort to policies and do not use any excogitation that suits a current situation or context.
It should be understood that when a person is appointed in a leadership position, it is usually because someone in authority saw talent and potential in that person.
Maxwell (2013) posits that the best leaders promote people into leadership based on leadership potential – not only on politics or convenience. Because this type of leaders who are appointed based on convenience, once they receive the title or position they desire, they stop growing; they stop innovating and rest on their entitlements and clog up everything.
These leaders often see subordinates as an annoyance, as interchangeable cogs in the organisational machine, or even as troublesome obstacles to their goal of getting a promotion to their next position (Maxwell, 2013). As a result, according to Maxwell (2013), departments, schools or institutions that have positional leaders suffer terrible morale, which I think can be witnessed at most public institutions in Namibia.
Positional leaders neglect many of the human aspect of leading others and ignoring the fact that all people have hopes, dreams, desires and goals of their own.
Their main focus is control, instead of contribution. The only thing they work for is to gain titles. Many of us can testify that currently, these types of leaders are creating a vicious cycle of gamesmanship, posturing and maneuvering; it is also creating departmental rivalries and silos.
As a result, many people who show potential or commitment are undermined in trying to guard their position and keep themselves clearly above and ahead of anyone else. The consequence of this is that the best people, feeling undermined and put down, normally decide to leave the department or organisation and search for another hill to climb. Only average or unmotivated people stay, leading to the poor performance of the organisation.
Most skilled employees, when devalued, leave an organisation when the work environment is poor. If those who leave their jobs could be interviewed, the odds are high that many will say they did not leave the job but the people they had to work with.
Some people who work for positional leaders may start out strong, ambitious, innovative and motivated but they rarely stay that way. Generally, according to Maxwell (2013), they become one of the following three types of people who are proof of the current Namibian public servants.
Clock watchers: Employees under positional leaders love clocks, and they want them visible at all times throughout the building. They evaluate every moment at work according to the clock, how long they have been at work, how much time is left, or how long until a break or lunchtime. Clock watchers know how much time is left before they get to go home – and they never want to work a second beyond quitting time. Leaders should, therefore, think about it that when people who work with them are hardly waiting to quit working the extra second, something is not working.
“Just-Enough” employees: When people work under leaders who use their leadership position as leverage, the people who work for them often begin to rely on their rights as employees and the limits of their job descriptions to protect them from having to work anymore than is absolutely necessary. They only do what is required of them and only do just enough to get by, to get paid and to keep their job. People do not give their best to leaders they do not like; they may give their hands but certainly not their heads or hearts.
The last people are the mentally absent: Under the positional leader, there are always individuals who may be physically present but mentally absent. They do not engage mentally, and they show up merely to collect a pay-cheque.
Most positional leaders are neither creative nor innovative and when the going gets tough for these leaders, many of them will move out and look for another position or job to continue the poor performance. Therefore, those in leadership should observe the work ethics of people under them and make amendments to their leadership style. It is time to rely on job development and stop relying on position to push people. Just because you have the right to do something as a leader, it does not mean it is the right thing to do. Leadership should not be defined as a noun (who I am) but rather as a verb (what I am doing).
Leadership is action, and not position. Although we live in a culture that values titles, titles or positions alone are not enough. I know many of us admire and respect people with titles but titles alone, according to Maxwell (2013), are ultimately empty. Who the person is and the work she/he does are what really matter.