Legacy organizations and corporate institutions are filled with inertia; cultures that promote a “Tell me what to do” environment.
I once inherited a department where my predecessor had purposely silo'd the department to develop a mystique about their work. Promoting that her team’s work was “black magic, smoke, and mirrors” was how she felt she could best retain her position.
The effect of this type of leadership (really managing not leadership) was that she also compartmentalized all decision-making within her role. Making it very clear (via words and actions) that decisions were made by her - and her alone. The only way her employees, (because there was no "team"), knew what they were to be working on ways to go to her and get a list. When the list was complete - they went back for more.
Her employees didn't make any decisions about their own work. Consequently, they didn't think. They didn't think about the work itself, the impact it had on their workmates, the company, and (heaven forbid!) on how it impacted customers. In fact - they were afraid to think because it had consequences.
This kind of imposed inertia promotes a work environment where team members become "List Junkies." At best, personal ownership is something that individuals achieve only by circumventing specific aspects/tasks of their work away from the eyes of their boss. At worst, it transforms team members into...
Changing their opportunity to contribute into: “Tell me what to do.” List Junkies cannot do their jobs unless they always seek permission. Transforming the opportunity to have an engaged team member into one that is satisfied when completing a given list and receiving their next one. Such a waste.
In his book, "Turn the Ship Around", Captain (Ret) David Marquet worked with Dr. Stephen Covey to create what they call the Leadership Ladder. Based upon Marquet’s Intent-Based Leadership theories and practices. The Leadership Ladder gives, ..." a clear view of the interplay between Bosses and Workers as they struggle with control and authority in decision making."
I believe (as Marquet purports) that appropriate levels of authority must be moved down the hierarchy of an organization for it to actually succeed. Success in profit, culture, and workforce development all have proven themselves benefited by clear purpose articulated to the “coal face” of organizations followed by the authority to make decisions about their own work.
At the same time as you move authority and clarity to the factory floor. You also need to improve the information flow to the leadership. Without the improved information flow - simply moving authority opens up to many variables. Information flow in the form of metrics and data-driven Key Performance Indicators will allow the leadership to spot trends, scenarios, or issues that they need to chart the course of the company as well as provide a stable environment for success, (but I’ll cover that at another time).
Below you will find some strategies for moving workers (and bosses) UP the Leadership Ladder to combat inertia and stop your teams (or yourself) from becoming sheep.
Below you will find some strategies adapted from David Marquet's Intent-Based Leadership Principles for moving workers (and bosses) UP the Leadership Ladder to combat inertia and stop your teams (or yourself) from becoming sheep.
WORKER - Three strategies for moving workers away from permission-seeking List Junkies to having ownership and taking authority.
“Have you had a conversation with anyone else? What did they think about this situation?”
“Have we ever had this scenario in the past? What did we do then? What were the consequences? What do you think we should have done then?”
“If you were me…what would you do?”
“If you were the one who was talking to the customer…what would you recommend we do?”
Fast Forward - Have them imagine that it's somewhere in the future and if they “look back on it” what would the impact “have been”?
“If this were six months from now and you were looking back…what do you see as the impact of each of the options on the project/company/team/customer relationship?”
BOSS - Three strategies for gaining ownership (authority) from a permission-based boss
“I’ve done some research and if we do X, then Y is the most likely outcome. How about we try YYY and see how it goes?”
“Looking at some of the data from over the past XX months. Here is what I found. It really seems to indicate that YYY is the best course of action.”
“How about we could try this out on a smaller scale to see how it goes?”
“It would be great if we could do a small test and measure its effects. I believe we could do XXX first and then YY second. Those two factors would give us a lot of feedback on how well it might scale.”
“If this were six months from now and we were looking back…what outcome would you have wanted to see from something like this?”
“If we collected some data to confirm or eliminate this idea. What would you suggest would be the right data to look for?”
“Have we considered this type of thing before? I wonder if things have moved since then. Since the last time we looked at it, are there new technologies/data/vendor solutions that could help us re-look at solving this problem?”
What does "tell me what to do" sound like in your organization? Comment below...
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