Many leaders do not understand the power of moving from high control and a hierarchical structure to a light touch where staff feels empowered rather than controlled. 

Before you say to yourself, "I release staff rather than control them," you might want to check with your staff because, in a majority of cases where leaders believe they empower and release staff, their staff says just the opposite. In fact, when I do culture audits of staff and report back to the senior leader, he/she is almost always surprised when they hear that their staff perceives the culture to be controlling rather than empowering. 

If you want to find out what the staff thinks, consider asking your staff to answer the following three questions: 

"Would you describe the staff culture as controlling - where you need permission to do something, or empowered where you have the freedom to do what you need to do to accomplish your job? Why? How does it make you feel?"

This is a standard question I ask in staff audits, and the responses are revealing and often discouraging, as the majority of staff often report that it is a controlling culture. 

The third question, "How does it make you feel" is an important one. I will often hear responses like:

  • "The organization hired me for my ability and expertise, but I cannot do anything without permission. I wish they would trust me rather than to doubt me."
  • "I am seriously considering looking for a different job because I feel that my expertise and gifts are not being used here. If I don't do something the way my boss would, I hear about it and often have to back up and do it his/her way."
  • "I cannot even spend small amounts of money without permission. That holds things up and is frankly demeaning. If I screw up, OK, tell me, but give me what I need to do the job without having to ask permission."
  • "In our organization, decisions need to be made at least twice. First, by me and my team, then I have to go through the same stuff with my supervisor, who feels free to override what our team has worked on. You end up feeling disempowered and wonder why you put all the time and effort into a plan when you are often told to do things differently."
Because I often guide organizations through culture change, I also see the amazing transformation when staff is released from control, trusted to make good decisions, and don't have to ask permission for most of what they do. That transformation is nothing less than amazing - and transformational to the culture.

I hear staff saying, "I cannot believe it. I don't need to ask permission anymore." "I feel much more valued and trusted than I did before." "I feel like I have been let out of my cage, and my self-confidence has increased exponentially." "My happiness factor in my job has gone way up, and I'm not looking to move anymore." "I am waiting to see if the freedom we have will last or if our leaders will try to control us again."

This is all about moving from a permission-withholding organization where you cannot act without permission to a permission-granting organization where there is the freedom to act within established boundaries.

There is another significant advantage to a permission-granting culture. In a permission-withholding culture, staff doesn't have to take ownership of their work. After all, their supervisor is the one who allows or disallows, or modifies their work. If it doesn't work, that is the supervisor's issue since the staff just carried out his/her directives.

But when you move to a permission-granting culture. Staff develops the plan to achieve the objectives, and therefore they must take responsibility for the success or failure of the effort. In permission-granting cultures, there is far more corporate buy-in and ownership than there is in a permission-withholding culture. Which do you want for your organization?

Here is the great irony. We control staff so that nothing goes wrong. In the process, we disempower staff and create low morale, which translates into less ownership - the exact opposite of what we really need and want from staff. When we release control of staff (within established boundaries), they flourish, are engaged, and take ownership which is what we need and want. 

Those who control loose! Those who empower win!

  • Aug 20, 2019
  • Category: News
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