Steps for perfomance boosting leadership


Believe in your team members’ ability to succeed. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

I, like many Kenyans, love movies. Action, comedy, historical fiction, and political dramas all appeal to me. One of my favourite movies, Crimson Tide, first appeared in theatres long ago in 1995.

Now a film classic, Crimson Tide wrestles with the power-play-induced ethical issues a leader must face to make successful effective decisions.

Different video shops around Nairobi still sell the movie starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. I recommend it to current and aspiring CEOs.

The film meanders through an intricately laid out scenario whereby breakaway Russian rebels on one hand and the US military on the other nearly destroy the world with nuclear weapons.

In response to increased Russian rebel war threats, the US sends out coded messages around the globe to its nuclear submarines instructing captains to prepare their vessels for a nuclear launch.

The US military officials at the Pentagon later send out a second message containing further instructions with either order: launch the nuclear missiles or stand down and do not fire.

A particular submarine hidden far out in the open ocean fails to receive the entire second message.

Given the threat of nuclear war from Russia, should the submarine launch its nuclear weapons in an effort to destroy Russia’s nuclear launch sites and help protect the US and its allies or not launch missiles and keep the peace while hoping that Russia did not already launch their own nuclear missiles?

The submarine’s commanding officer, played by Gene Hackman, forcefully pushes the crew to launch the weapons without waiting for confirmation from the second message.

The deputy, or executive officer, portrayed by Denzel Washington insists that confirmation must come from the second message.

A massive struggle between the two ensues with the crew forced to choose between following the man in charge or the deputy.

What may we learn from a fictitious war film? Now sitting comfortably in your office here in Kenya and not out in the ocean, you too must find the right power balance to lead your staff and convince them to follow you. There exist, different power models, for you to exert your authority to lead your teams.

When you take the job as the boss of a company, what first instincts do you possess? Do you desire to hold a staff meeting and remind employees of your authority as CEO?

You have five different options to utilise: expert power, referent power, legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power.

Expert power derives from your experience and ability in the field that you lead. Staff recognise a leader’s expertise and follow him or her based on their respect for the leader’s knowledge.

Referent power originates from staff loyalty and happiness with their boss. If employees like their leader on a personal level and want to please him or her, then the boss maintains referent power over the employees.

Next, you may utilise the legitimate power entrusted to you in your position by the shareholders of the company. As the CEO of a firm, you hold power through the facilities of your office.

You may hire and fire or promote and demote. Reward power centres on your ability to reward employees for good work in their jobs.

Rewards range from salary raises, bonuses, awards, recognition, or other benefits and privileges.

Lastly, your desire may lay in coercive power. As a leader, you have the choice to coerce and force employees to your way of thinking. You may make work and life difficult for employees if they do not act as you choose.

Stop and think. All too often, leaders resort to the “big boss” method: “I say it so you must do it because I am the boss.”

Such a scenario clearly utilises legitimate power. But if you could only implement two types of leadership power in your company, which of the five options would you choose?

Research shows us that expert power and referent power lead to employee commitment. Legitimate power and reward power result in employee compliance with your goals.

Then coercive power builds employee resistance against you.

Clearly, employee commitment leads to better company performance than mere employee compliance. Bosses should avoid employee resistance, obviously, at all costs.

So, as a leader in your company, lead through referent power and expert power that builds employee commitment and in turn yields higher firm profits.

How do you improve your referent and expert power? Researcher Florence Stone shows us practical steps:

Believe in your team members’ ability to succeed. Exercise patience with your employees. Give staff time to learn. Provide direction and structure.

Teach employees new skills in small easy-to-master steps. Ask employees meaningful questions that challenge them to think in new ways.

Share information with team members, sometimes with the only purpose to build rapport. Provide timely feedback to employees. Show a sense of humour. Focus on objective results. Then never forget to acknowledge good performance.

In Crimson Tide, referent power and expert power won at the end of the day instead of legitimate power. Denzel Washington, though not the highest-ranking officer, used his likeability and knowledge to succeed in turning the submarine crew against the highest-ranking officer, Gene Hackman, who held legitimate.

As a result, the submarine did not launch its nuclear weapons and peace persevered.

As a takeaway, strive to make your employees like you and respect your expert knowledge and thereafter experience higher corporate profits from their improved performance.

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