Octagon Session: The ‘Motivational’ leader vs the ‘Instructional’ leader

Welcome to The Octagon. 

We appreciate you taking time out to Join this Chat Session. We have two moderators in the room who will only offer guidance where necessary. Please feel free to openly share your thoughts and experiences.

Let’s begin with some introductions before going into the discussion. Can everyone let us know who they are and share a bit about what they do ? 

Thank You.


Sam: Good day, gentlemen. I am Sam Ikoku, Ocean Lifter, and a Productivity Consultant with NAKACHI Consulting.

Oyiza:  Good day everyone, I’m Oyiza Salu and I lead the HR team at GTBank

Shina: Shina Atilola, I lead the strategy and communication team in sterling bank.

Aruosa: Good day all, I am Aruosa Osemwegie, my day job is Lead Partner, Enable Africa and Programmes Director, The HR School; my night job is speaking and writing people and organisations forward and some books have gotten published through some restlessness.

Chude: Chude Jideonwo, co-founder RED here!

Dikko: This is Dikko Nwachukwu. CEO JetWest Partners.

The Octagon: The relationship between leaders’ behavior or the leadership style and subordinate has gained increased attention in recent times especially with the emergence of millennials in the work place. Their career aspirations, attitudes about work, and knowledge of new technologies define the culture of the 21st century workplace. Millennials want a flexible approach to work, but very regular feedback and encouragement. They want to feel their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognized. As a result there have been increasing complaints and even employee turnover rates. This is a real concern for businesses as these are “tomorrows people” and understanding how to manage them is key.

There is also the discussion that the larger organizations lose their core/essence, ability for top leadership to impact and give accurate appraisal as it keeps expanding operations.

All these impact the employee to customer relationship and more businesses are loosing the loyalty they once enjoyed.

How important are employees to a business success? Does leadership style affect organizational productivity? Is there a problem with the way leadership in Nigerian Businesses relate and channel its employees? Are there any leadership styles to lean towards?

Shina: Employees in business are like the blood in a human system. Therefore they are not only important but the most important for business success. Leadership can make or mar an organization. A critical trait of leaders that are successful is the ability to get the best from people always. It takes you knowing them beyond the work place. Building trust and creating a conducive environment.

Sam: I believe The Octagon is addressing all types of people so I’d like to look at the two types of leadership from 60,000ft.  More and more, the term employee is becoming obsolete. Partners best describe them and leadership must recalibrate to better manage them. A phrase attributed to Steve Jobs captures this well. “Why do we hire smart people if we tell them what to do?”

I believe the topic raiseD really cuts to the heart of the matter because the type of leadership now becomes a part of the business model.

For me, after more than twenty five years of trial and error, I have come to some resolution on the difference between Instructional and Motivational Leadership. Despite talk about the Millennial Generation, both types of leadership have a role to play. The tweaking is in the prominence of one over the other. It is the employees who drive the business. Before now their role was mostly tactical, but more and more they formulate strategy as well.

Oyiza: It goes without saying that people are the core of any business. A lot of the times, you hear the phrase -“Our people are our greatest assets” but to what extent is this demonstrated day to day? That being said, I believe that a lot of effort has actually gone into making this saying come to life within organizations especially with today’s reality of managing a diverse workforce.

Aruosa:  There is a limit to what one person can do. Having more people on board (otherwise called recruitment), is a way to multiply our results. Then if this group of people achieve synergy only then can they ACTUALLY multiply their efforts. And leadership style affects the ability for us to reach this synergistic state. The Nigerian business or Nigerian entrepreneur has a lot to learn but they might be finding it difficult to learn with the difficult macro economy and a lot of learning of the wrong things too. Particularly if one doesn’t create alternate communication diffusion systems which allows real info to get to you and of course creating a culture of candor.

Oyiza: I agree with Sam & Dikko’s assertions. In terms of leadership style, it is important to find a balance depending on a number of factors including organizational culture. Also, leaders need to ensure that they are not far removed from the goings on in the organization. They should be accessible to a large extent in order to really feel the pulse of their people, sell the vision and get buy-in.

Chude: I’m interested in Sam’s point about how to marry the two.

Sam: In my view, instructional and motivational leadership are different parts of the same spectrum which begins with self-awareness and ends with appreciation.

Dikko: Having led a company of 1500 people. I can tell you that when a leader sits in his or her ivory tower, you only get to see what your people want you to see. I think a leader needs to be visible and accessible.

Aruosa: @ Dikko, would be nice to know if and how you solved it.

Dikko: @ Aruosa I spent one day a week working in the field and got on flights whenever I could, helping out in every aspect. From loading bags, to cleaning aircraft to checking in passengers. It resonated with our people very well. They felt motivated. They had direct access to put suggestions and ideas that made the system work better. It also made us the senior management understand their issues better. So it wasn’t always about Naira and Kobo. And when the catering department said they needed a high loader, we quickly bought one because we too had carried food on to the aircraft and it was back-breaking work.

Oyiza: @Dikko – That’s a very good way of building credibility and trust.

Sam: @Dikko, I think that is a good example of instructional leadership. I want to assume you seize upon every learning moment.

Aruosa: Wow. Instructive. Sounds like what someone called Management by Walk Around. We can see exactly how YOUR leadership style affected their morale and company results. Thanks for sharing.  A leader defines the climate in his/her team and climate being simplistically “How it feels here to me”….and how it feels to me as an employee affects or defines how I do my job, how I relate to other staff and customers and whether I go the extra mile or not.

Sam: @Dikko One question. Would it help if leaders walk the path before creating job descriptions, providing tools and negotiatING remuneration?

Aruosa: By the way, what is instructional leadership? and what is motivational? I’m thinking getting commonality of meaning would help deconstructing the matter.

Sam: I believe they are part of one spectrum. In that spectrum, instructional leadership, which is the centre point is bracketed on both sides by motivational leadership. On the self-awareness side, motivational leadership is inspirational due to the leader’s own achievements. On the appreciation side, it is due to the leader’s ability to create an empowering environment for those working on a common vision.

The Octagon: The motivational leader is one who leads by getting buy in and constantly pushes his team to take ownership …. The instructional one leads by giving tasks/instructions.

Aruosa: For an academic discussion, it would be nice to ask which is better or needed between instructional and motivational, but from a practitioner discussion, BOTH are needed….a leader needs to have both in his/her repertoire.

Sam: Instructional leadership builds skills to improve current performance. It engenders managers and consumers. At best, it leads to change. Motivational leadership encourages creativity. It engenders leaders and creators. At best, it leads to transformation.

The Octagon: Great points raised thus far…. we can all agree that a little bit of both is necessary.

As organizations scale up, should leadership be decentralized to ensure they achieve more and stay true to their core?  In managing tomorrow’s people, do business leaders and HR teams need to revise their current strategies accordingly? What are the key skills leaders need in today’s work environment filled with millennials?

Chude: For millenials – one key skill would be listening. The unending capacity to listen. Like to say that power has changed hands from employer to employee. Especially in a knowledge worker context. It’s essentially a seller’s market and in that context, employers must learn the humility of ceding decision making powers.

Sam: And the willingness to see failure as an acceptable by-product of experimentation.

Chude: But, aren’t there cultural mind maps that sometimes make it difficult to rally people towards a goal in this space i.e Nigeria-West Africa? When I say culture though, I don’t mean traditions (Atilogwu dancers etc) or even heritage as much as I mean context. E.g in a society where people are not used to speaking up, how does a leader get crucial feedback?

Oyiza: It could play a significant role; however I believe accountability or the lack thereof (in this case) also has a role to play. If there is a willingness to hold people accountable; I’m certain we’ll begin to see mindset shifts across board. This is where a leader needs to show authenticity by deliberately eliciting feedback. Creating avenues/opportunities that enable employees to freely speak up without fear of any backlash. It really boils down to the culture within the organization and whether it is one that promotes open and honest feedback or not.

Aruosa: You are now referring to the Entrepreneurship-Leadership culture I speak of. A leader should be willing to do both paper work (instructional) and people work (motivational). Again, here is where leadership style comes to bear – seeking and encouraging feedback must be deliberate and continuous. Jack Welch, called it a “Culture of Candor”. You need to motivate (Motivational Leadership) people to give feedback and to respect it when it comes AND you need to build in a process/system/policies (instructional leadership) for this feedback to keep coming. Example: GE have some thing they called “Work Out”, and Warby Parker has something they call “Warbles”.

Sam: There are cultural meta-responses. Leadership must factor them in. It is a component of the corporate culture in every society. One way you get people to speak up is to make speaking up part of the evaluation process. It’s going to be a fight to free employees from the impact of generations of culture. A survey we carried out left us wondering which was more powerful. Whether the employees fear of speaking up or the leader’s abhorrence to honest feedback. Both were a problem, but getting leaders to accept honest feedback in the face of failing strategy left more dead bodies on the field.

Dikko: Employees fear speaking out because most times management come down with a hammer for little mistakes made. I find that when we aren’t as harsh on mistakes, which happen, they respond by letting you know what’s up when there are issues. And remember, leaders have more excuses to give for failure. So when we level the playing field –  the number one task of the motivational leader – we spurt towards our true capabilities both as people and organisations.

Oyiza: Absolutely Dikko. I think ‘fear’ has a big role to play here. Once people know that they will not be ‘crucified’ for making mistakes but rather are provided the required guidance and support to ensure the same mistake is not repeated, the outcomes are much better.

The Octagon: Awesome guys. We will be ending this conversation in 4 minutes because of our delayed start. We would appreciate if everyone can share their final thoughts on this. Thank you.

Sam: Though both “types” of leadership will create a spike in organizational productivity in the short term, fitting the right one to type and phase of organization will ensure sustainable productivity.

Chude: I think it’s crucial to note what Sam said re: practical contexts. There can be a temptation in this age of TED talks to glorify one type of leadership in public. But in reality, the workplace requires a fusion of strategies and leaders, while noting that employees these days are more Talent than Human Resource – we must take that into consideration.

Oyiza: Irrespective of the leadership style, I believe the right leadership behaviors are key to driving organizational performance irrespective of size or type of business. Thanks guys for the robust discussions. Definitely learnt a few things here today!

Aruosa: Pleasure conversing people….have a great week.

Sam: Keep up the great work!

Dikko: Thanks everyone.

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