Leadership and engaging staff in the vision of a business, particularly in uncertain times, seems to be a topical point at the moment. On a recent holiday to a developing country, our accommodation was positioned near a village, still operating in a subsistence lifestyle. These villagers have probably grown the same vegetables and fished in the same way for centuries. There also seemed little change in the construction style of the buildings, although there was a greater use of corrugated iron and prefabricated windows. The villagers still had the same communal eating habits.
The lodge we were staying at employed a lot of the locals who were undertaking cooking, cleaning and driving fishing boats with deck hands for the tourists. Some of the staff had been fortunate enough to have visited Australia. These seemed to be sponsored trips by the various Australians that had visited the lodge regularly over the years and built up a rapport with some of the locals. Maybe these trips were to give them an insight into the Australian way of life?
This seemed like a great idea on the face of it. However, it revealed an interesting contrast – here we were thinking the locals were living in paradise, and they were maybe thinking we lived in paradise. One young fellow was particularly interested in opening a beach office for the lodge at Dickie Beach!!
The Director of the lodge was also the village Chief; obviously a visionary as he had built the lodge, with the support of an Australian, some ten years back. He had continued to enhance the facilities and build additional amenities on the site. This man had also begun to develop the skills of the young locals, realising that employment opportunities were extremely limited.
There was, however, some unrest beginning to occur among some of the employees regarding what they were being paid versus the work they were doing. I found this surprising because, from the outside looking in, it seemed that the village Chief was genuinely seeking to create positive opportunities for locals. Here he was, working to provide employment and invest time and money in building a place that would attract tourists and support the local economy. It felt like the dissatisfaction of the staff didn’t acknowledge what he was trying to do.
In thinking about this, it occurred to me that it was a reflection of similar situations that can happen right here in corporate Australia. Perhaps we too don’t always realise how fortunate we are, considering the challenging situations occurring overseas. And we too can get focused on our immediate circumstances without looking at the bigger picture.
I wondered, if the village Chief had involved locals more in his planning…if he had shared his passion and dreams with them…if he had given them a sense of ownership of what was happening, if maybe some (probably not all) of the dissatisfaction would have changed. He may have even encouraged more entrepreneurial ideas from the young locals.
When you engage people in your vision and help them see how they are contributing to your organisation, then they are better able to feel part of your organisation’s success. This ability to make people feel valued influences everything from productivity to retention to innovation. I’d say that throughout history, the capacity to make people feel valued and listened too has been a hallmark of great leadership. If people are connected to your vision and see themselves as having a role in your success, then you are best positioning yourself to achieve your goals.
We may not all be Chiefs but regardless of how developed a context may be, if you’re the leader of people, rather than things, you have to take them on the journey with you.