Intent Blog

Understanding what Effective Leadership Is

It is clear that effective leadership is related to achieving great things. An effective leader gets people to achieve great things. But, if you ask yourself under what circumstances a leader can inspire people to go on and achieve great things, you learn something very significant and surprising about leadership.

Great Leaders Engagement Willingness:

People become much more effective at achieving goals when they are wholeheartedly committed to achieving it. People achieve great things when their hearts are in it. The more people are dedicated to and committed to the cause, the more impactful they will be in the pursuit of that cause. Put simply, success comes when people are committed to making a discretionary contribution to the cause. If there person is there for no other reason than to get a pay check, you do not have the conditions under which that subordinate will make a telling contribution.

This makes it clear then that it is the job of the leader to unlock this willingness in the subordinate. This is really what it means to get the best out of people, i.e. to lay the groundwork for them to commit to going the extra mile.

The Importance of the Leader’s Intent:

The next question then is what sort of leader do you need to be in order to unlock the willingness to make a discretionary contribution?

The answer to this question is somewhat surprising. We can start by thinking about the person who we would personally commit to and what it is about that person that gets out commitment. That the core criterion is the Intent or deeper motive is confirmed when you reflect on both the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ boss they have ever worked for. What distinguishes the ‘boss from heaven’ from the ‘boss from hell’ is not his biographical features, personality type, intellect, level of interpersonal skill, managerial style or behaviour. Both the boss from heaven and the boss from hell can be nice and both can be hard. The crucial difference however is the why behind the behaviour. When the boss is being nice, why is he/she being nice, to manipulate me or to genuinely be nice because I deserve it?

People don’t always recognise that what is on the inside is what counts, not what is on the outside. The Intent test is simply this – whose interests are being served? To what degree is the person prepared to suspend their own agenda for mine? The boss faces this test in every interaction they have with a subordinate. The more the subordinate’s interests are cultivated, the more the boss grows in stature in the eyes of the subordinate, the more the boss is trusted and the more inclined a subordinate is to go the extra mile for the boss. Paradoxically, the boss’s best interest is served when he/she serves the interests of his/her subordinate.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.