I think one of the most powerful emotions swirling around the world today is fear; and one of the most natural responses to fear is to exert more control. How often have you heard the righteous masses’ outrage when things go wrong, “How can this be !!” they exclaim. The response from the suitably cowed leaders is usually “We will redouble our efforts so that this can never be allowed to happen again”.
When I hear this I groan. I groan at the timidity of our leaders and of the restrictions that will inevitably follow. Most of all I groan at the opportunities for growth that will be extinguished. I then let my frustration pass and wonder what we could do differently.
I am an existentialist at heart and am happy with the idea that we have the freedom to choose. I am also clear that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. When we get it wrong we have the opportunity to learn. When we learn we grow. I am therefore all for keeping the options for growth as open as possible.
I am not advocating a chaotic free for all where we can do what we want. Instead, I am asking Leaders to be conscious of the balance between having systems that are sensible and allowing enough freedom alongside of these for people to grow.
Get the balance right and most people will repay their freedom by choosing to engage with and take more responsibility for their work. Get it wrong and the majority will switch off, rely on the system to do their job for them and take their discretionary effort elsewhere.
So how do Leaders know when they have the balance right?
First I suggest you make an honest appraisal of your own thoughts and feelings about the systems you have put in place. You might want to work with a coach or mentor to do this. How secure are you in your job? Are you fearful that giving more freedom will lead to a loss of control? What has been your experience of trusting people? How anxious are you about knowing everything?
Next I would have a closer look at the people who follow you. What do they really think about you as a leader? Are they happy at work? Are they creative and engaged? Do they inspire you?
You could also look at the culture you have created in the workplace. What is your attitude to failure? What happens when people make mistakes? How many great suggestions / creative ideas do the people who work in your business come up with?
I can’t tell you what the ideal answers should be because I am not you. All I can ask is that you become more aware, more conscious of the balance you have struck between controlling those who work for you and creating the opportunities for them to grow.
In short can you allow others the freedom they need so that they too can realise their highest sense of purpose?