Etsko Schuitema: Intent – Care & Growth


At the core of the crises humanity is facing is the spectacular failure of controls and policies – be that in food management, financial sectors, international relations, governance systems, or even inter-personal relationships.

In a world that is becoming fragmented and franchised, more controls are impossible to implement. Yet there is a need of collective decision-making by people: an engaged citizenry.

Etsko Schuitema, a transformation consultant, is the managing member of Schuitema – a consultancy about business transformation through business growth, based in South Africa and Pakistan. In his work, Etsko has explored Intent as the core of being human, and developed the Care & Growth Model of Leadership – derived from his research in the African mining sector.

1. Why do people matter?

People are the bottom line. An organization is built to serve its chosen customers by adding value; as long as it genuinely does that, it survives.

Organizational leaders care for and grow the employees. If the organization does not concern itself with the benefit of people, it will not prosper as people grow wary of the relationship.

2. Yet, “people” are not the priority on most organizations’ plans.

That happens. There are two opposite models of leadership: The Pharaoh Model, and The Moses Model.

In the first model, the leader is the end, and people are the means. The society’s efforts are harnessed to glorify the leader and build grand structures of no value to the society. Pharaohs enslaved people to build pyramids.

The way of Moses is the complete opposite. People are the end, and the leader is the means to serve their best interest – which of course could sometimes require hard but fair measures by the leader. A true leader sacrifices to achieve the society’s fair aspirations.
The first kind of leadership does not thrive because it is not based on contribution to the society. It takes, it does not give. Only that which is generous, survives.

3. But all organizations serve customers. Where is the difference?

The issue is of where attention is given first. Is customer the primary concern, or profit? Profit follows happy customers. It’s not the other way round.

Then, who is the actual customer? In a school, for instance, it’s the students – not the parents, the management, or the society. The purpose of a school is to serve the students’ best interest. If that fails, everything else fails.

4. What is the essence of your Care & Growth Model of Organizational Leadership?

That an employer is a leader by virtue of empowering the people – by caring for and growing them; not by virtue of being able to ‘buy labour’.

Transactions occur between two equals.

The legitimate power structure is only where the leader provides unconditional care and fair and honest growth. The result of it is that employees are loyal to the leader.

Care refers to the ‘soft’ element: such as listening, empathy, genuine concern in the welfare of the employee, making provisions. Growth is the “hard” or control element: it means fairness and honesty, establishing accountability. Together, they serve the best interest of the people.

5. How does empowerment work?

People and things are not defined by boundaries, but by transcending their boundaries.

True leaders concern themselves with removing limitations to the realization of people’s potential. This is achieved by giving employees the means and the ability to perform their jobs, without which they are not truly accountable. Over time, the leader removes controls and creates conditions for growth, much like a gardener does not “grow” the plants, but creates the right environment. Ultimately, leadership is about gradually surrendering control.

But for this, the leader needs to have the big picture in mind.

6. What is the surrender of control?

Organizations are like living organisms, composed of structures and systems. First, this means the flow of work and addition of value from input to output. Secondly, it entails the policies and procedures that govern the flow.

Living organisms change, so must organizations. The process of change is a gentle, incremental suspension of control. In little bites, the structure flattens over time. And the system shortens as it shifts from procedure-driven to policy-driven.

7. How does intent function? How does it transform the organization’s relationship with the society?

Intent is a process of maturation – it’s a shift of attention from “I am here to get” to “I get to give/ I give to get” to finally “I am here to give.” From malevolent intent to benevolent.

The first stage of this maturation journey is an infantile attention; it’s selfish and based on own needs. Its primary concern is greed.

The second is the adolescent concern with fear; which leads to hostility and aggression. Its organizational equivalent is a focus on competitiveness. In later adolescence there is a shift towards bargaining: service is conditional on getting back.

The third intention is mature. Organizations at this stage are concerned with generosity, which means good (corporate) citizenship. The focus is on leaving something to the community and social engagement.

This journey of maturation is not necessarily bound by specific time, but it occurs over these stages.

Intent defines the framework and seeps down to the operational level. It’s not enough to have benevolent intent; the best organization measures itself by it.

8. How do organizations ensure sustainability?

Sustainability by extending more controls is not achievable – it should not even be the goal. Death is the most certain of all things, and we all die alone. Showing courage in the face of death is the measure of one’s preparedness. Organizations don’t die like people do, by age, but they do if they don’t concern themselves with generosity and ultimately courage.

What courage means is that there comes a stage where there are issues larger than the collective – the interests of society. Groups mean the individual participant has to surrender some value at some point to the collective. Courage is to walk the path alone. To look beyond one’s interest, and even the demands of the society. To do the right and the appropriate, even if no one approves.

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Ramla Akhtar is the founder of Pakistan Changemakers Hub, a connector of innovators and community leaders, and co-founder of The Oneness Breakfast, a peace initiative.

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