The Responsibility of Leadership

Last year I was reading a book called The Three Laws of Performance (Zaffron and Logan, 2009) which presented 3 laws that describe where people and organisations are at and how to “lean into” change and create preferred “new futures” through language.

The three laws state that:

  1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.

Leadership Corollary – Leaders have a say, and give others a say, in how situations occur

  1. How a situation occurs arises in language

Leadership Corollary – Leaders master the conversational environment

  1. Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people

Leadership Corollary – leaders listen for the future of their organisation




One of the case studies in this book was about Lonmin mines in South Africa, the third largest producer of platinum in the world. The book spoke of how Brad Mills, the CEO of Lonmin from 2004 – 2008 worked with the communities servicing the mine on a change initiate to create win/win “new futures” and improve people’s lives. Just to put this in context, the communities around Lonmin comprise 300,000 people who live in the most dreadful conditions of poverty.  The only hope these people had was the mine – it was their future, and Brad Mills saw this and decided to work with the leaders to improve their conditions and their communities.

Brad Mills, with the assistance of Dave Logan (who wrote the Three Laws of Performance) went to the mine (against advice of his contemporaries because of the fear for his safety) and began to dialogue with the 150 or so leaders in the communities. He asked four questions:

  1. What is it you want me to know that is not working?

This was to listen and learn about each other’s worlds.

  1. What will happen if we don’t find a new way to work together?

Old continued ways of thinking create a default future.

  1. How can we know what the future will hold?







If nothing changes the future will resemble the past.


  1. What are the opportunities that can be seized if Lonmin, the communities, and the unions commit to new powerful ways of working together?

The vision of what is possible.


The responses to Question 4 were things like: “a reduction in deaths in the mines, 100% literacy in their communities, full employment, AIDS free community, Lonmin recognised and is successful on the world stage”. The mood of the initial meeting was described as shifting from “sober to excited, imprisoned to free”.  Following this dialogue, Mills implemented a range of positive change initiatives across the company.

Fast forward to August 2012. We were skiing and I just happened to catch the front page headline of the world news section of the Canberra Times which read:

“Sth African police kill protesting workers”.

On reading the article I discovered that nearly 40 Lonmin miners were shot dead by South African police during a violent standoff. WOW I thought – how could this happen when I had just been reading the success of the change initiative at Lonmin under the leadership of Brad Mills?  Some Google research revealed that the leadership had changed in 2008 and Ian Farmer had become CEO from 2008 to August 2012 when he went off on stress leave.  Another WOW!  Leadership really does make a huge difference to what can happen.

More research… I emailed Dave Logan and Steve Zaffron, who wrote the book and worked with Brad Mills, to ask them a few questions.  They emailed back to me some sobering thoughts about the situation.  They said that “there are no villains here”.  Brad Mills’ “new future” was radical and that possibly the Board and the CEO, Ian Farmer, didn’t fully understand what was at stake.  It was always a very tenuous situation at the mine.  A new radial union had recently formed which incited walking out and violence as the solution to achieve their request (they wanted a doubling of wages to $1500.00 month).

What Dave Logan said in his email is that there are some vitally important lessons here for leaders. The biggest lesson is that new futures change efforts inspire great hope, and that carries an ethical responsibility to see them through.  “Hope crushed is worse than never having hope at all”.  Lonmin communities were released from the “prison of a bleak future” and given hope of a new future, only to see it ignored by those who took over after 2008.

The second lesson involved the erosion of “tribal” thinking (not African tribes) from Level 5 (“life is great” thinking) to Level 1 thinking (“life sucks” thinking). By tribes Logan means a group of between 20-150 people where everyone knows each other or at least knows of each other.  Tribes are natural building blocks of human efforts that are more powerful than teams.  Level 1, life sucks thinking tend to display itself in “despairing hostility” and violence which is what occurred at Lonmin mine in August 2012, spiralling down from Levels 4 and 5.


As conscious leaders, we need to ensure that our change initiatives are designed in such a way that we can sustain them over time. Change is about people, not just economics and business advantage. This requires a long term commitment, capacity building and complex problem solving, often of problems at have not yet even been identified at the outset.  It also involves an understanding of the level of thinking of the tribes we are working with.  No culture is build to last. It requires consistent commitment, monitoring and ongoing dialogue to continue to create our preferred futures.  I hope we can all learn some valuable lessons from the Lonmin mine experience that will sustain us and our communities into the future.  Developing leaders with the levels of mental complexity to lead into the future is the purpose of my research. I will keep you posted!

Trust is fundamental to successful change initiatives – CE

Posted in On Leadership