Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
We have all seen the diagrams depicting leadership styles and a group of people rowing a boat. Everyone needs to work together to get to their destination efficiently and effectively. A happy crew, working together, in cadence and rhythm, all doing their part. It makes sense.
But when you think of empowering people in that setting, what could happen? What if someone decides to row faster because they feel a sense of urgency? What if someone stops rowing because they want to discuss in more detail where they are going? Many leaders want to empower people, but by doing so, they fear it will create an environment of chaos, where nobody is in charge and the situation will spin out of control.
Merriam-Webster defines Empower as
1: To give power to
2: To give official authority
3: To promote the self-actualization or influence of
While the first two definitions technically match what happens when a person is empowered, it is the third definition that really gets to the heart of the matter. Self-actualization. In 1943, Abraham Mazlow first published what became known as Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Since then, management and leadership gurus like John Maxwell, Stephen Covey and Peter Drucker have referenced and used his concepts in their teachings.
When we were initiating our journey at work towards Operational Excellence, empowering the teams to act and own the situation was absolutely critical. But “giving power or authority” wasn’t enough. It was refining the shared vision together so that the destination was clear in the minds of those embarking on the journey and the process to get there is understood.
We explained that they were in charge of their area and had the power to control the change. We also helped to make sure the boundaries were understood by the teams. If they saw something that needed improved AND if they validated/verified the impact with all the stakeholders, they can make the change without seeking management approval with two caveats:
Wow! Did they respond!
Processes were immediately improved, driving efficiencies within the work team and how the work team engaged those outside the work teams that helped break down silos across the company. We established a grass roots Waste Watchers program that celebrated the elimination of waste in our working environment. Besides the 8 wastes that are typical in the Lean Kaizen activities, they targeted two other wastes, Overspending and Not Being Green. We adopted our own two second lean videos program that encouraged fun and humor to show that even the smallest improvement could have an impact.
When you see yourself as the owner, then you also feel ownership of the problems and challenges that arise. You also view yourself as the owner of the solutions. It wasn’t about giving or granting authority, it was about expecting them to own the solutions. They appreciated the high standards and expectations of excellence (the 2nd Pillar of Impact) and when they realized that they were supported, encouraged, and celebrated for moving things forward, they realized that they did own the process.
In the rare situation, where we were facing a potential issue with a customer, there was no waiting for management or for someone to tell them what to do. They owned the situation, put in the time, requested help when needed and in turn showed the courage to challenge (the 1st Pillar of Impact) those outside of the organization to make sure a solution was identified and acceptable to satisfy the customer. This is evident in winning the prestigious Intel Preferred Quality Supplier award.
During the Covid 19 pandemic, our company, like companies across the globe, was faced with the difficult challenge of managing work while sending employees home to work. We were fortunate that our production force and support staff were essential employees and were able to continue working at the facility. Around 80% of our employees moved to a working from home schedule including management. Without an executive or director level presence, the production crew performed exceptionally, owning the situation, and ensuring that their fellow employees and our customers were supported during the pandemic. They continued to drive their Gemba Walks and kept the same pace in the Waste Watchers program driving efficiency and improving productivity. The only difference was that we reviewed the processes and celebrated the successes virtually.
It was an easy transition because the employees were empowered to make decisions. The employees were empowered to take control of the situation because they are closest to the process. The employees were empowered to lead because that is what leaders do. Empowering people is the difference between surviving and excelling and in today’s world, that is truly the Essential Employee you need if you are to be successful Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.