Leadership - a New Way

This morning a friend and ex colleague of mine from my corporate days sent me a copy of an internal communication from my old company.

The communication dealt with a major restructuring that is currently underway in that company and which will result in both the loss and relocation of a significant number of jobs.

As I read through the message with its list of Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ, I couldn’t help but feel pangs of anguish for my corporate friends and a sense that the more things change the more they stay the same!

Restructuring is a regular feature of the corporate landscape both here and abroad. Some companies handle the inevitable dislocations of staff with a greater degree of sensitivity and care than others. But, in my opinion, the effect on employees and staff morale is, at best, underestimated and, at worst, disastrous.

I’ve survived many restructurings and I’ve watched many others, with great interest, from a position of relative safety. So I feel qualified to express reasonably educated views on the subject.

The first thing that the leadership of any company will tell you is that they exist only because of their customers – and as market conditions change they need to adapt the way they are structured to serve their customers more efficiently and effectively. The second thing you will always hear is how they need to bring down costs to be more competitive.

If you’re in employment, you’ll know the typical jargon that comes with leadership restructuring announcements…

“...de-layering”, “reducing complexity”, “becoming customer-centric”, “improving efficiency”, “streamlining the organisation”, “releasing value”, “strategic re-alignment” and so on and so on.

Strangely though, the thing you will almost certainly never hear when it comes to restructurings, is that your company is changing to make your job more exciting, more meaningful and more rewarding – and you happier!

Just why is that, I wonder?

Countless studies have shown that the happiness of employees has a direct bearing on the performance of a company. Many companies measure and monitor what they call an ‘Employee Satisfaction Index” (I wonder when the first will have the courage to call it a Happiness Index?) but none that I know of include this index as a significant factor in the determination of executive reward.

Having been both a team player and a team leader on many occasions during my career, I can bear testimony to the phenomenal power of truly motivated employees. I can say with all honesty that there are few - if any - problems that cannot be solved by motivated employees aligned with their leader’s vision.

So what’s going wrong?

From my experience I would venture the following observations:

  • Many restructurings come about purely because of a change of leadership or management. In such cases, the upheaval is caused by the desire of the new leader to put his or her stamp on the business. It’s clearly an ego thing. To continue without significant and immediate change risks inviting comparisons between the new leader and the old one, whereas a shake-up effectively removes any benchmark for objective comparison and creates a new order in which the new leader can play a defining role.

  • The ‘business cycle’ and the ‘leadership cycle’ are, in many of today’s corporates, out of synch. By this I mean that whereas businesses typically construct seven, five, or - at minimum - three year business plans, they move their key executives every 18 months to two years. So leaders are rarely around to reap the results of their business planning. As a result, the only way left for leaders to make a ‘career enhancing statement’ is by restructuring.

  • Where restructurings come about because of the need to improve performance, leaders have a tendency to develop sudden cases of severe amnesia. They forget the years of investment they made in recruiting the best people for their companies; instead choosing to orchestrate changes from behind closed doors without consultation with, or reference to their chosen ones.

So what’s the answer?

Well, there’s some evidence that a few leading edge companies are starting to wise up to a simple but very powerful reality…

The best way to effect groundbreaking changes is by openly communicating the nature and extent of the challenge, then engaging with and empowering employees to design and effect the best solution – even if that means reducing jobs!

Simple really! Think about it…

Divisional leader, John Dumelane has been told to cut his costs by 20% or face the prospect of his business being sold off by his corporate masters.

In the first scenario, John calls a team meeting to drop the restructuring ‘bombshell’:

“I‘m not at liberty to disclose any details at this stage as the whole situation is confidential, but you should know that we have serious cost pressures.After much thought I’m afraid I have no option but to cut our staff compliment by 20% in the next six months. I will deal with your questions at a later stage but for now I thought you should be aware of this serious problem. Thank you, you may go.”

In the second scenario, John invokes the power of his people:

“Team, thanks for coming together at short notice. You guys are the most resourceful, innovative bunch I know. Every time you’re confronted with a challenge you come up trumps. That’s the hallmark of a great team and some really very special people. Now, I need you to help me find the best way in which we can reduce our costs by 20%. Each of you has unique talents and will come at the problem from a different angle and that’s great. Together, I just know we can do this with the clever thinking and cooperation for which this team has a great reputation. Now, let me explain why I’m making this request…”

In the first scenario, it’s likely that people will leave the meeting feeling distraught, fearful, embittered, angry, puzzled, and/or confused. The weeks and months ahead are likely to be characterized by uncertainty and unproductivity – and the ramifications will almost certainly continue well after the downsizing is complete.

In the second scenario, people are more likely to leave feeling pride in their leader and themselves but, more importantly, they’ll leave understanding what needs to be done and why and with their minds focused on innovative cost cutting ideas rather than finding alternative employment!

The difference in leadership style lies in having a genuine passion for people; understanding that every person on the team is valuable and each has a unique contribution to offer and role to play; believing that one’s foremost role as a leader is to motivate, inspire and develop one’s people.

In the first scenario, John is a typical, solution-focused leader who refuses to let a concern for his people deter him from taking the tough action he feels is the primary responsibility of his role.

In the second, John is a people-focused leader who knows that his primary role is to build a team of happy, empowered people who, when properly motivated, can and will make just about anything possible.

More and more nowadays, progressive corporations are appreciating the value of hiring life coaches to help them motivate and inspire their people and their leaders. Demand for life coaching services is set to rocket as this powerful new leadership style emerges as the next business ‘wave’.

If you have a genuine passion for people – and for life in general – and can relate to the second scenario above, it’s very likely that you could become a great life coach.

If so, why not consider signing up for the New Insights Life Coach Training Programme? With us, you study in your own time and at your own pace.

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With warm regards as always


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