People aren’t complicated. Human nature is fairly predictable. And we don’t need a plethora of rules and regulations to define every possible way a person might step out of line. Typically we can boil it all down to the basics — a few simple things most people want and deserve from the folks in charge.
The Principle of Legitimacy in Leadership
At the 1814 Congress of Vienna, an idea was proposed to help restore to power the lawful monarchs from royal families who ruled before Napoleon. Titled the Principle of Legitimacy, it was a governance guideline to ensure peace and order. It included five common sense concepts that most of us would agree should be the basis for sound leadership:
- Rules don’t change: people like to know what they can count on. No one likes to be evaluated against a moving target. Some say a sense of certainty is one of the greatest human needs.
- Authority is fair: remember when you were a kid and you got punished for something your sibling did? We didn’t like it then and now that we’re grown up, fairness is even more important. However, fair doesn’t always have to mean equal. People need different things and deserve to have their circumstances take into consideration.
- Things make sense: the reasonable person wants to see a pattern, cause of action, greater purpose and ends that justify the means. Nobody likes to feel like they fell down the rabbit hole. Too often policies are established that work for one team but are totally nonsensical for another.
- People have a voice: they want the opportunity to raise issues, express concerns, identify gaps. Freedom of speech is a bedrock right of the people of our nation. Many organizations do themselves in when people don’t feel free to speak up. Too many problems go unsolved because people don’t want to be labeled, “not a team player.”
- People need to be heard: some say we humans are one big walking ear. In over 35 studies, listening was identified as a top skill needed in business today. Yet, fewer than 2% of us receive training in listening skills. Read this Harvard Business review article on listening.
Ensure the above listed needs are addressed in every major workplace training such as internal and external customer service, employee engagement, job satisfaction, harassment prevention, teamwork, communication skills and leadership. Most definitely leadership. Then embed then in performance reviews for frontline supervisors, team leads or anyone managing a group of people for whatever purpose, even if it’s the neighborhood bake sale.
Another Approach to Leadership
Sometimes it’s easier to say what we won’t do versus what we shall do. Otherwise you have an increasingly long and complicated set of rules that try to capture every possible way people can mess up. (If you’ve been a supervisor, project lead, parent or teacher you know how creative people can be!)
You could define your mission by simply stating, “We agree to do nothing to embarrass our constituents, compromise our values or (the best one yet) require a lawyer.”
Or, “We agree to do nothing that is disrespectful to one another and requires an intervention from the boss or the Human Resources Department.”
Can you see how those simple statements could benefit a team when trying to establish norms of behavior? They define what people will NOT do versus what they SHOULD do. This limits the parameters greatly. You can start broad and then, if necessary, narrow the scope.
Why, even our U.S. Bill of Rights outlines governance using negative terms: “Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The framers intent was obviously to give law-making power to Congress to lead within a framework of constraint.
What was true in 1787 and 1814 is still true today. Let’s keep things simple, easy to communicate, able to withstand the test of time and establish guidelines the average person can understand. That would make life a whole heckuva lot easier for people we interact with and ensure you get better engagement no matter what the project, policy or plan.