by LeaderShape Faculty Member, Maiqi Ma
‘IF A GOVERNMENT becomes unpopular, neither good nor bad policies would be welcomed.’ The words illustrate how the Chinese people value the trustworthiness of leaders and remind me of the so-called ‘Tacitus Trap’ (referring to the Roman philosopher), who asks:
Why are efforts to change such hard work? And, why is changing mind-sets and behaviours hard work too?
Employees who are asked report that their companies’ initiatives most often reinforce changes through formal mechanisms; role modelling is used least often.
I am not surprised. My diagnosis is that these companies lack a culture based in human relations. I would provide a prescription to the leaders derived from the ancient Chinese science of organisational transformation: ‘Letting your people understand the reasons, moving them on with affection, guiding them through self modelling and having an attractive benefits package.’ The prerequisite for these principles is… that the leaders should be virtuous!
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According to the ‘Doctrine of Confucius and Mencius’, a virtuous leader should meet three conditions. Firstly, (s)he should let his people have a ‘certain livelihood’. My interpretation of ‘certain livelihood’ for nowadays is a ‘fair salary’ and most definitely not the ‘zero hours contract’ model. (One complaint I heard from a small company is that the business owner’s wife did very little work, never appeared in the office and yet had a much higher salary than the full-time staff.)
Secondly, they should teach people, not only about knowledge and skills but, more importantly, human relations. For example there should be a sense of righteousness between bosses and managers; between senior and junior levels, a proper order…The core of all relations is mutual respect and differentiation. Mencius says that ‘when the prince regards his ministers as his hands and feet, his ministers regard their prince as their stomach and heart; … when he regards them as the ground or as grass, they regard him as a robber and an enemy.’
I have heard many middle managers say that they are treated like pawns in a game of chess by their bosses. In many organisations, the bosses often seem to regard the shareholders as the most important associates, while staff are least important. At employee level, the attitude is often ‘this is not my business. I don’t care.’
Another complaint I have heard from some renowned companies is that frontline staff’s basic wages are the same regardless of individual levels of education and length of service. This is a source of irritation for the senior staff and results in a high turnover of employees. They feel that their expertise and loyalty are overlooked.
Third and last, the leader should ensure there is a wide sense of shared pleasure. I was once having lunch with a senior manager of one of the top 100 companies. He introduced a mini golf game right there in the staff canteen and said to me: ‘If you like, you can take a golf ball home. Our boss likes golf.’ I was impressed by his pride, but I did not take a golf ball with me!
Confucius says that virtue is like the North Pole star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it. Mencius comments ‘when one by force subdues men, they do not submit to him in their hearts…when one subdues men by virtue, they are pleased deep in their hearts and will submit with sincerity.’ So, it is much better to say ‘What can I learn in order to influence or persuade my people to change?’ rather than ‘Changing mind-sets and behaviours is hard work.’
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