Taking the Reins
We all have defining moments in our careers. And those times when we triumph over adversity and show our leadership strengths (and weaknesses) we peer further into what we are made of as human beings. Truth is we rarely get these insights because of our own actions. Such insights are often accompanied by the support of others. Dana Theus explores this powerful motivating force of triumphant leadership through the lens of engagement and INpowerment. It’s a great story you’re about to read.
Have you ever met someone who’s commanded a nuclear submarine? I hadn’t, until last month when I found myself chatting with David Marquet, author of Turn The Ship Around, a must-read leadership book that adds new chapters to the wisdom on employee empowerment.
David and I were musing on the challenge of handing over control of the business to employees, many of whom don’t know how to take it or simply don’t believe you mean it when you offer to give them control. We were stuck on the horse-cart problem that to unleash EMpowered employees, the employees themselves must unlock their own INpowerment – to take responsibility and ownership – and to shift from following to leading.
Apathy and dissatisfaction run rampant, leaders feel buffeted by the market and employees feel squashed by corporate politics and constantly shifting objectives…
To engage employees like this it means that the employees must actually take the reinsmand really own the results. This is what David did very successfully when he commanded the submarine, the USS Santa Fe. In a closed-loop experiment of sorts, he was able to transform a crew of unEMpowered “we do what you tell us to do,” individuals in a boat ranked at the bottom of the fleet, into a band of highly INpowered leaders who not only brought the sub’s rankings up to the top, but personally went on to achieve a disproportionately high number of individual promotions.
Is The Horse Even Attached To The Cart?
Many modern workplaces do not achieve even the inefficiency of a low-ranked Navy sub. Apathy and dissatisfaction run rampant, leaders feel buffeted by the market and employees feel squashed by corporate politics and constantly shifting objectives. Few employees feel appreciated and no one – even at the top – feels empowered by the organization to do their best.
Even if your workplace isn’t quite this bad, it’s often difficult for employees to believe you truly want to empower them. Some of them don’t even want to be empowered. So if you truly DO want to empower them, how can you get their attention? Get them to believe in you? How can you get them to put the horse in front of the cart and then take the reins?
I wish I could say David and I solved this problem on the back of a napkin over lunch. If we had, I’d show it to you, but we didn’t. We did have a lightbulb moment that I’ll share, however.
Believe they can do it. In your heart-of-hearts, trust them and make sure they know that you believe and trust in them. Also hold them responsible, but don’t punish them unnecessarily (David has some excellent examples of this latter point in his book).
Discussing this challenge, both David and I remembered moments where we personally took the reins – and full ownership – when we realized those above us believed we could do it and were counting on us. I remember a specific case where I helped a direct report keep his job by believing in him when he – and everyone above us both – had given up.
Sometimes, it takes you to believe in them for them the find the courage to believe in themselves.
In your heart-of-hearts, trust them and make sure they know that you believe and trust in them…
Start there, but don’t stop there. Read Turn The Ship Around; there are many other keys to empowering success in its pages.
I truly believe it all starts with belief – in yourself and in those you empower: no one gets anywhere they don’t believe they can go.
Connect with Dana
Dana is a research-based advocate for women’s leadership initiatives and talent innovation strategies that produce business results.
A leadership and change management consultant and coach, Dana helps her clients access the power of gender-partnered leadership teams, diverse leadership styles and personal power.
She works with individual leaders, corporate clients and high-performance teams to help them master the dynamics of change and transformation.
You can read more of Dana’s writing here. Follow Dana on Twitter @DanaTheus.
Art by Rado Javor