Not trying so hard to have all the answers is good for you. It’s also great for your team.
I had lunch with a client last week. He’s a very clever guy with a very senior job in a major global company – the recipe for an interesting and stimulating discussion. This one didn’t disappoint, in fact, it got me thinking so much that it prompted me to write this. We’d covered a whole host of subjects and our time was nearly up when he asked a question.
“How can I be more inspirational in my cascade to staff?”
Was my almost instant response This brief exchange was a brilliant insight into something so commonplace in big companies – the idea that somehow, by virtue of position, we feel that we should be able to write a few magical lines of communication that will result in inspired and motivated teams.
Now I accept that it is part of the leader’s role to provide the context, direction, and conditions for people to feel inspired, the idea that this role should extend to being inspirational (and in our email communication at that) is terrifying.
Our tendency in senior positions is to feel as though we have to have all the answers. For generations we went to work, just like our parents did, and dutifully followed the leader for as many years as it took to work through the various levels until we arrive as leaders ourselves – and then we face a choice – do we do it differently or be the same as the others before. Our entire frame of reference was what we saw above us and this person above was almost always the someone who decided how everything worked.
This stems from the fact that we’ve been building organisations for some time based upon the need for control. These controls and the hierarchies they’re presented in don’t feel that natural anymore and they certainly don’t get the best out of the people working in them – in fact, more often than not, they create demoralisation below and stress above.
So if we change our focus from control, what happens?
I think the fear is that everything stops. That perhaps people will not do their best because no one is making them do it after all isn’t the opposite of control disorganisation, or even chaos?
I prefer to think of another opposite of control… freedom. And that from this freedom, we can find speed, creativity, passion, innovation, energy and much more.
Most executives recognise that the level of process and bureaucracy that’s developed over the years in the name of control is slowing them down, at the very time when what they’re looking for is greater speed and agility to stay competitive. Finding the answers is difficult – you can find hundreds of solutions to problems of lack of agility and speed, etc. It’s unlikely that any will fit your organisation off the shelf though.
What we can do is turn the problem over to the people who are most likely to be able to solve it – those closest to the action – the front line. It’s the same thing I said to my client – if you want to inspire, here are two things: “make the cause worthy” and “cascade the question, not the answer”.
When we have something (beyond making money) to strive towards and understand our connection to it, it fulfils our need to find meaning in our work. When we’re presented with the questions/challenges that the organisation needs addressing, rather than the solutions, we’re able to engage our knowledge and experience and it gives us the opportunity to exercise our desire for autonomy.
These relatively small steps can dramatically improve the happiness of people working in your business – we know that happier people are more effective on a host of levels – but it goes even further when we’re involved in developing the solutions and in pursuit of something meaningful – we get beyond engaged…
There are other benefits too. When we delegate effectively, or better still if we want to truly empower, then it’s clear that we need to place greater emphasis on supporting people to do their work rather than managing them to do ours. The effect is that we’re starting to create the conditions for empowerment and the foundations for a culture based upon accountability and trust.
It’s clear that we need to place greater emphasis on supporting people to do their work rather than managing them to do hours. furthermore, we learn when we’re challenged, and our ability to problem-solve (a critical capability for most modern firms) is improved when we get to exercise it.
Not only do these kinds of steps improve the happiness of employees, but they also improve the happiness of the leaders. It may feel like an abdication of responsibility for some, but that’s just the historic reference of control surfacing. For most, it creates space to focus on designing the business (the big vision), and enables them to get out of the way to let the rest of the business make it happen.
Working in a business that has an exciting and meaningful cause, with leaders that want me to help solve the challenges that we and our customers face… Now that’s inspiring!!
When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.
Good message. As a guest on my podcast remarked just yesterday, for policy makers – and many leaders – “there is an inherent belief in the incompetence of others.”