The Transfer of Power — Giving Permission to Lead

I happen to be heavily involved in a book about followership as it pertains to leadership and one of the principles we’ve been discussing lately is that those in the followership role have an obligation to step forward and challenge the leader when necessary. This line of thinking spurred an exceptional vision call that I had with our team last Friday that centered around them challenging me more. Often times I have felt like my team is reluctant to challenge me because I am the boss, because I sign the checks. And while I would love to say that I have all the answers, I simply don’t.  I’m really making this up as I go. Aren’t we all???

The analogy I used to help my team to better understand my position was another film analogy.  Something I learned as a filmmaker is that if a director is dictatorial in nature, he creates a product that is only as good as himself. But if a director works to serve and nurture the department heads around him, they will take care of his film and create a product that is truly exceptional and complex; and ultimately far more incredible than anything the director could have accomplished on his own.

When I challenged my team to come forward and tell me what I was doing to get in their way, we found that a common issue among a few of them was micromanagement–feeling like I was over their shoulder. Simply having the conversation allowed me to invite them to challenge me in the moment the next time I was behaving in such ways with each of them.  Everyone feels things like this differently and this will give them an opportunity to help me to help each of them specifically.

Ultimately what I needed to do was give them permission to step into that leadership role and ask for what they need to do their jobs better and enjoy their time more. They needed an invitation. Some might say that they should have taken the initiative themselves, and I certainly would have respected it if they had; however, such issues are complex for employees and it takes time to build a certain level of trust and comfortability. Some of my staff have been with me for three years now and they understand that this company is like my child, and they respect that; so it is not that they feared for their jobs as much as the dialogue that they were having in their heads was that I had the right to behave in such a way.  It took me inviting the criticism to help them to understand their role in the system.  I want this company to be a machine that is created by all of these talented people pushing for what they feel is most important. That only happens when there is an environment where pushing back is acceptable, appreciated, and rewarded.  Consider your environment and whether or not you are leading your company to be as good as you alone can be, or as great as it can be with the exponential benefit of the greatest assets of each and every member of your staff.

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  • Jay Tatum

    Here's a couple of thoughts to consider in your vast spare time. First, "A Failur of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix," by Edwin Friedman. It's a great read on how leadership functions from a family systems perspective. There are lots of gems to mine in this book, so enjoy it as you read it.

    The second thought, admirably, is that you have had staff with you for three years. I've worked with folks for 30 years and we still have trust issues and turf issues. The challenge of leadership for those of us privileged to be the "head" is that we don't lead in a vacuum as if we were not connected intimately with other members of the body. When my bowels move (crude but effective analogy), I, too, have to get up and move. Nothing wrong with the "head" listening to the bowels. Let your bowels get in an uproar and you'll feel miserable (hence the analogy). Once the bowels calm down and they get what they need, things work regular as clock work. Same thing with all the other organs and you've got folks who don't always "feel" connected and have to get your attention until you do something. A pain in the butt is only a pain so long as you allow it.
    Point Three of two, Dave M, author of "All I Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek" has a great way to address your concern about followership. "The most important time to help someone is when they need. Always answer a distress call." Live Long and Prosper.