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Powerful Leadership: Free People to Take the Lead

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This chapter is from the book
You will be absolutely shocked at how many restrictions have been placed upon employees. Learn why freeing your people from organizational constraints will start to turn your organization from a jail into a house of freedom and a new opportunity.

The highest and best form of efficiency
is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people.

—Bernard Baruch

Time magazine devoted its December 7, 1998, issue to the most influential business geniuses of the century. "Managing to be best" was one short section touting the talents of the century's smartest bosses: Coke's Roberto Goizueta, General Electric's Jack Welch, Wal-Mart's Sam Wall, and Panasonic's Konosuke Matsushita. After characterizing their accomplishments, the author, Ram Charan, asked the question, "Do these four share common traits other than their leadership and superb business acumen?" Charan's answer was yes: "They were curious folks and hence lifelong learners. And they paid attention to people, realizing that the potential of any enterprise hinged on giving subordinates the maximum opportunity to succeed." Then, Charan made this prediction: "Even in the 21st century, these characteristics will still be required of great managers."

Most organizations are land-mined with various devices that restrain, confine, and restrict employees from contributing their best efforts at work. Poll-taker Gallup reported in March 2001 that 55 percent of employees have no enthusiasm for their work, while 19 percent are so negative about their work that they poison the workplace to the point where the companies might be better off if such pessimistic employees called in sick. Workplaces are laden with constraints that repress, limit, regulate, restrict, bridle, check, curb, and put down employees.

Although this book tends to focus most directly on managerial practices, one element of the work system, three other elements—the guidelines or policies, the work itself, and the structure of the system—exercise powerful constraining influences on workers. In order to free your people, it will be necessary to make adjustments to each element in the total work system, not just in managerial practices. Remember that what you do as a leader should allow others to take the lead in making adjustments in the work system.

If you demand good work from your people, you must free them from any rule, procedure, policy, routine, approval, report, job description, structure, bureaucratic expectation, and workplace process that doesn't make sense and limits employees from growing, developing, and contributing their very best at work.

As you read about this first essential change, you will be absolutely shocked at how many restrictions and constraints have been placed upon employees. In too many organizations, we have not only bound and gagged our people and stifled efficiency, but we have also put employees to work for the boss and the bureaucracy rather than for the customer.

Let Them Take the Lead

Why free your people to let them take the lead? Because most, if not all, human beings have brains and a surprising amount of untapped energy. It is unnatural to squeeze a human being into a milk carton. Besides, if you demand effective work from your people, they have the right to demand the freedom and resources to do it well.

There is also a very practical reason why you should liberate your people from organizational constraints. If your people are free to think and act, to innovate and figure out better ways of doing things, your managerial burdens will become lighter. You will succeed or fail as a leader, not by what you do, but by what you encourage and allow others to do. The question that you must ask yourself each day is not what did I do as a leader today, but what did I do to allow others to take the lead today? Quite obvious, isn't it? The more you encourage others to take the lead, the more growth, development, and responsibility they have, and the more time you have to figure out long term goals and, of course, to engage in some leisure-time activities. Ultimately, as you make each of the seven essential changes that we suggest, you will learn how to point the way and then get out of the way. This may be quite a turnaround from your present method of management; however, it is being done by other managers and leaders, and you can do it also. Now back to the first essential.

When you free up employees to take the lead, they discover new and innovative approaches to increasing profitability and achieving customer satisfaction. Banks have been deregulated. Airlines have been deregulated. Utilities have been deregulated. Start now to deregulate your workers by believing in their great potential and eliminating restrictions.

Today's employees want not only the freedom to redesign their jobs, but also a say about the way things are done in the organization. You need to create an environment in which people can contribute, in which their ideas will be heard, and in which their opinions will count when decisions are being made.

Robert D. Hass, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., has commented that at Levi Strauss 36,000 pairs of eyes and ears are tuned to the marketplace all the time. Haas wants to involve as many people as possible in making Levi Strauss a world-class company that shapes the future in its markets. Levi Strauss is trying to develop a management style that gives the workers the confidence to respond in real time to changes rather than wait until some spiral-bound study works its way up to the chairman's office.

We believe that if you kick down a few doors and knock over a few walls that get in the way of your people, you will find your workers much more fulfilled and energized by the work that they do. You may discover that your own people have the best ideas about product and service improvement and about creating an environment where work is more fun than drudgery. As an effective manager and leader, your best opportunity to free your people will come as you encourage them to take the LEAD!

Stop Strangling People

It wasn't long ago that a subtle change began to appear in the workforce. It wasn't noticeable until the 1980s when Yankelovich, the polling company, discovered emerging trends in business and industry. The surveys revealed that

the leaders who run our institutions do not really understand today's workforce: tens of millions of well-educated [workers], proud of their achievements, zealous of their freedoms, motivated by new values, with substantial control over their own production, and ready to raise their level of effort if given the proper encouragement.

The concept of allowing employees to think creatively and implement solutions to problems that arise has not yet been widely realized. In a few paragraphs, we will outline a better way to manage the people who will be leading in the future. With this different paradigm for understanding the contemporary workforce, a more effective form of leadership can emerge.

Although the workforce landscape may be slightly obscure, revealing only glimpses of a figure here and there, it is striking enough to signal a shift in conditions necessary for exercising effective leadership. Follow along for a moment.

Consider these six characteristics of members of the contemporary workforce identified by Yankelovich:

  1. well-educated,

  2. proud of achievements,

  3. zealous of freedoms,

  4. motivated by new values,

  5. wanting substantial control over production, and

  6. ready to raise level of effort with proper encouragement.

What implications do these characteristics have for organizational leadership? For leadership in general? Consider some basic assumptions that must be overturned when trying to lead that kind of workforce.

First, you must relinquish any thoughts of having a stranglehold over those who work with you. The current workforce is more highly educated than any previous workforce, and the importance of freedom in decision making is understood.

Second, you must give up traditional motivational techniques, such as rewards and punishments. The fact is that with proper encouragement, workers will extend their own efforts and take responsibility for their own lives. So-called rewards should be used simply to confirm the good work done by employees.

Third, you must give up thinking that you have an advantage over employees in initiating actions, getting new ideas, and creating innovations in the workplace. Members of the workplace have the talents, abilities, and interests to do a better job of improving the workplace than you do.

Fourth, and lastly, you must never constrain, restrain, restrict, hinder, or hamper your cohorts in their pursuit of excellence, high quality, outstanding performance, and enjoyment in the workplace. The clarion call is fourfold: let them work free, let them move ahead, let them aspire to great things, and let them want more and more and more of the abundance that comes from success.

Leaders in the new economy free their workers to aspire, to move, to want, and to achieve. In turn the new leaders free themselves to be supportive, helpful, and sustaining. The new leaders walk side-by-side with those whom they work with in the organization. They facilitate, encourage, empower, capacitate, allow, permit, aid, assist, support, and benefit those with whom they work. They free those with whom they work from the mundane, the routine, and the anguish of organizational trauma. The new leaders are mindful of the needs of their colleagues and free them from organizational constraints.

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt so cogently expressed,

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—anywhere in the world.

Freedom to express oneself in the workplace, freedom to feel uplifted and spiritual in the workplace, freedom to feel secure in the workplace, and freedom to feel confident and respected in the workplace are the standards that must guide the very thoughts and actions of the new leaders in the workplace. The new leaders have new paths to trod, new roads to travel, and new freeways to cruise, where they must relieve sorrow, tribulation, doubt, and turmoil. They must inspire, succor, share, inquire, enlist, and facilitate. These new concerns are no longer reserved for the weekend. These new concerns are no longer reserved for religious leaders. These new concerns are no longer relegated to social events. These new concerns are no longer part of the myth and warp of the weak. These new concerns are now the obligation and the opportunity of leaders of the new economy. They must move from run-of-the-mill managers to powerful leaders of people. The longer we wait to move to the next level, the greater the risk of declining morale, profits, and efficiency.

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