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You have a choice. You can accept the status quo or you can step up and become the leader you are looking for. Stop waiting and start leading. Leadership is not bestowed. It is not a title. It is earned through action and example. Magic happens when everyone leads.
This series of articles is not about what your leaders need to do to turn you into a leader. This series is about what you can do for yourself to become a leader in your own right. Wherever you sit within an organisation, you can lead.
“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” ~ John C. Maxwell.
Leadership should be part of the everyday culture of the organisation in which everyone can lead.
If you were to reach out to employees across different industries, different size organisations and different locations, and ask them how easy it is for them to step up and take a lead, I guarantee you would get a myriad of different answers.
So much will depend on the culture of the organisation and its people and its dynamic.
Therefore before I embark on this series about employees stepping up the the plate and leading, I have to start by exploring the environment in which these employees can thrive.
A culture of micromanagement and a power hierarchy structure is the worst environment in which employees can try to lead. That is not to say that some of the actions I uncover in this series cannot happen in these environments.
Employees working in these environment can choose to be suffocated by them or find ways to improve their condition.
These conditions, for example, do not stop some degree of collaboration and knowledge sharing happening. It does not stop one employee reaching out to another with an offer of support. It does not stop an employee enabling another person to show leadership by recognising the unique value they bring to the team and appreciating the contribution of others.
The degree to which an employee can demonstrate leadership will be stifled by a lack of autonomy and centralised decision making. It will be smothered with micromanagement where employees are told what to do and how to do it in a prescriptive manner. It will be strangled by a default management approach of command and control over one of delegation and trust.
The employee will be like a lion in a cage pacing back and forth, achieving some outcomes but the full power and potential being trapped.
When an organisation is serious about allowing everyone, wherever they are, to lead, they create the environment in which that potential is freed. The lion is out of the cage.
These organisations exhibit the following traits.
Trust and respect
Employees will lead when they know that they are respected, and their contribution valued. They will lead when they know they are trusted. When a manager dictates an outcome they want and how and employee is to achieve it, what is actually being said is ‘I don’t trust you to do the job as I expect it to be done.’ There is no better well to destroy and employee’s self-esteem and confidence. You have to trust employees to do the best they can.
When employees have autonomy, they have the freedom to make choices and determine how they go about their work. Autonomy comes about then a leader sets expectation about what needs to happen and when, and then gets out of the way.
This isn’t management by abdication. The leader and employee will agree what the outcomes look like, the timeframes, budget etc. and also the regularity of check-ins. The employee also understands that they reach out for support and help in removing obstacles anytime they need it.
Decentralised decision making
When employees are allowed to make decisions they are being encouraged to lead. They will see themselves as leaders when they can make decisions that matter and have an impact.
When we empower employees, provide autonomy and decentralise decision-making, we also provide guardrails. Just like the guardrails on the road that are there to keep us all going in the same direction and not going off the road, guardrails are the same in the organisation. They are the principles or parameters by which the employee understands their scope of control and at what point they may need to discuss their intended actions with their leader.
There has to be no fear of setbacks. If employees are to lead they need to be able to have a go without fear of adverse repercussion. Setbacks, just like successes, should be celebrated as learning opportunities. if you are not making mistakes, you are no trying hard enough. Leaders do not impose fear – they inspire.
When an employee demonstrates leadership, in whatever capacity, reinforce their actions with reward and recognition. Positive reinforcement encourages more of the same behaviour. There has to be clarity about what is being recognised so that the employee knows the exact action that warranted the recognition. Positive reinforcement also needs to be given in a timely manner so that the action being recognised is fresh in the mind of the employee.
When Everyone Leads
When these conditions are in place, the ability of everyone to lead is amplified at every level of the organisation. Next week I will delve deep into the series and explore what employees can do to lead without waiting for permission to do so.
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