Thursday, April 3, 2008

Empowerment and Encouragement

So there I was, in an organization which had stopped moving forward. And people began wringing their hands about the lack of progress. Numerous reorgs (the standard solution) had not generated the enthusiasm to motivate the organization to lean forward in the "chocks" and begin to make progress.

What was wrong? The leadership seemed to want to move forward--but something was holding them back. Two things: Empowerment and encouragement. One of the most interesting and dysfunctional things which had been happening was the consolidation of power into the hands of a seemingly apt individual whom as it turned out, was a micromanager with a risk avoidance mentality and a love for secrets. This is a recipe for disaster.

The motivated, fired up individuals in the organization were reigned in and had their creativity and innovativeness stifled. Empowerment was taken away and encouragement replaced by a fear of failure. Organizational secrets became the norm and only the "in" group was party to the secrets. The most motivated individuals in the organization were affected first and feeling minimized began to withdraw. This malaise stretched to the informal groups and the entire organization began to suffer from lack of energy and vitality. No one wanted to do anything for the organization or even with the organization. Even old established traditions of fellowship began to die. It went adrift. And the micromanager more tightly controlled everything because certain failure was looming. And the secrets grew.

Fear of failure results in organizational death. The most creative people in an organization need to be allowed to set the pace for everyone else to follow. They will lead. The micromanager needs to follow and resist the tendency to reign them in. In organizations searching for an identity, empowering and encouraging the motivated individuals will help the organization shake off its lethargy and the direction will become clear. Leaders need to be transparent and fully and honestly communicate both their values and vision to those working with them. Failure should be acknowledged as a necessary and valuable by-product of creativity. Not every idea is going to be a success--but not encouraging innovation is stifling and will strangle an organization. And hiding behind secrets only serves to foster discontent.

The worst thing for a leader to tell a highly motivated, creative person is that "we're not going to innovate in your area anymore. There are other places we need to focus our energy." And while this may seem reasonable on the surface, what is being heard by is: "We don't value you anymore." No matter what or where--everything we do and every part of our lives (professional, personal, spiritual) can be better. Stopping work on any area says--this doesn't matter anymore and I don't care about it. And the organizational result? People leave. Those who have been minimized and had been stifled leave first. And then the organization slowly begins to die without the infusion of new ideas. Many organizations go outside, recruit new blood and repeat the process all over again. Until the new people become discouraged and also leave.

Leaders first and foremost must set the vision. They must be transparent in their dealings and resist the urge to personally approve every minute detail of projects that are in progress around them. They must trust those working with them to have honorable intent and maturity. Speak in broad vision terms which lay out the goals and encourage and empower the creative energized people in your organization. In these cases, a funny thing will begin to happen and to use a colloquialism: "The horses will run" and in chasing them the organization will prosper.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article as was the one before it. Sounds like you are trying to resolve a situation(s) that you may have little or no control over. Where do you fit into the organization? And what is the mission of the organization? Continue to dig deep. You will find the answers. When we are faced with such times in our lives we grow and learn much.

Good luck and God bless!

Bob Doan said...

Thank you for your encouragement.

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