“What’s in it for me?”

Effective leaders will not enjoy sustained success if their primary concern is themselves.


Followers, however, are a bit more self-centered when it comes to their involvement in the organizational success continuum. In his article “Kaizen, Ethics, and Care of the Operations: Management After Empowerment”, Alexander Styhre wrote that Western management differs from Eastern culture in that Western workers are “expected to work entrepreneurially within the ’empowered’ domain” (p. 800). As much as we preach collaboration and cohesive team-based operations, we must understand that we’ve promoted an entrepreneurial work paradigm (i.e. “I’m responsible for my work output, and my performance impacts my position within the organization”). This helps foster what some could consider a selfish attitude within organizations.

Still, (as Jay Conger and Rabindra Kanungo noted in their book “Charismatic Leadership In Organizations”) effective leaders must be sensitive to the needs of their followers because they have a responsibility to ensure that their followers have meaningful work lives. By understanding how their follower’s needs are met in conjunction with the goals of the organization, leaders increase the propensity for success and improving organizational performance.

Since a leader cannot perform every function in an organization, he or she must recognize AND capitalize on the strengths of their followers. Followers will not line up behind a leader unless they feel as though they share an investment with the leader. To that end, a leader must speak to his or her follower’s WIIFM: “what’s in it for me?” An effective leader should evaluate his or her enterprise to create an environment where the organizations goals and objectives are met, and where employees thrive. To do so, leaders should seek input from their followers by making them stakeholders. But how do you address the WIIFM’s of a diverse organizational environment? One way is by building consensus.

In his book “The Secrets of Facilitation”, Michael Wilkinson wrote that consensus simply means “I can live with and support that.” Wilkinson also asserted there are three fundamentals reasons people disagree, and the need for consensus arises: (a) they lack information; (b) they have different values or experiences; and (c) outside factors are affecting the disagreement.

Effective leaders can build consensus by:

  1. Fostering an environment where communication is open and honest and followers are informed. This helps leaders establish consistency in their words and actions
  2. Establishing a culture of “participation through facilitation”. Leaders can establish cross-functional teams to contribute to goal attainment within an organization. In this environment, individuals from different departments work together on specific projects (or on different components of the same product or project).
  3. Embracing the diversity of their followers. Diverse teams can be an integral component to the solution for many complex business challenges. Organizational leaders should create an environment where diversity is embraced and encouraged, and this can only be accomplished when they look across the enterprise to identify employees with diverse talents, experiences, and abilities.

In the book “The Organization of the Future”, Rosabeth Kantor wrote that leaders must restore the heart of the people back to the organization if they expect the enterprise to survive and thrive in the future. Kantor also wrote that leaders must shift from “command rights and status” to expertise and relationships, essentially shifting the power from the top and distributing some power to subordinates. This shift can only occur when we’ve formulated an answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”.


3 responses to ““What’s in it for me?”

  1. I think one of the problems that plagues many large organizations is that the senior management is out of touch with what the employees want and need. The ability to put yourself in the shoes of your employees seems to have gotten lost. If you really want to touch the hearts of your employees and inspire them to perform at higher levels, then you need to spend some time getting to know them. If you stay stuck behind a monitor all day with limited interaction with your team, then you can’t be surprised to find that you are out of touch with your employees. Fostering communication requires the leader to be out their communicating. Great post Tony!

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      I agree – lofty initiatives and the latest “management by design” fads are useless unless leaders take a vested interest in their followers. To your point, you can’t communicate from “on high” – you have to engage your followers WHERE THEY ARE if you hope to solicit their help in achieving goals and objectives. It’s a simple understanding yet an elusive accomplishment for many who call themselves leaders.

    • We had a discussion arnuod this very topic, just last week in our studio our local bar.We gain so much from reading non verbal communication clues when we talk with others and, as we move towards increasingly virtual relationships, it will be interesting to see how these evolve.A sideways glance, the rolling of your eyes, how someone subtly shifts in a chair in response to a point made in passing. The reality of face-to-face, in-the-same-room communication is hugely nuanced and filled with subtleties. These subtleties, often occurring in mere moments, are so fragile they often don’t make the transition to virtual video conferencing media.These are exciting times in the evolution of communication.

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