Not only from the Top

Last week I suggested that working within a business where you are undertaking activities that are meaningful to you and that you enjoy and where can see the impact of your actions is the first fundamental aspect of leadership. About 15 years ago I was working with a group of executives and they were making negative comments about their staff during the coffee break; nothing of significance from my perspective, I think it was more that they thought they could have a good complaining session with like-minded people. Negativity in these forums usually compounds negativity but positivity does not in Australia have the same effect; although it does in USA. After resuming our session I asked them to write down what their business would look like both physically and financially if they operated the business for 30 days without their staff. This small question created a light bulb movement for more than one in the room. The realisation that not only could the business not operate but the impact such an action would have on all aspects and particularly reputation was significant. There is, as they realised an aspect of leadership in all roles, it is that it is displayed in different ways. By creating an environment where the workers can collaborate, work adaptively, and feel empowered the Executives realised that they were creating a team of leaders who could grow the business not a group of workers who were on the payroll.There is a legendary story about a visitor to the NASA Space Centre in the late 1960s. On his way to see the latest Apollo space module, the visitor fell into conversation with a cleaner who was sweeping the floor of a long corridor. “What do you do here?” asked the visitor. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” was the reply. This is a significant illustration of the empowerment that the cleaner felt. There are four elements to empowerment; meaning, competence, self-determination and impact. In another article I speak about meaningful work and its association with motivation, however making work meaningful can be achieved by building signature strengths into everyday activities, such as for the cleaner, attention to detail and an ability to work in a repetitive job that has a low level of diversity. Self-determination is often the element that many operational (as opposed to strategic) leaders often find is missing in their role. They do not say ‘I do not have self-determination’ at work, but are more likely to say, ‘my supervisor micro manages me’.   Self-determination is the power or ability to make a decision for oneself without undue influence and to determine the fate or course of action of that decision. This means that the staff member needs to know what needs to be achieved by when, and as they are competent they will decide for themselves how to achieve that outcome. The sequencing of the request with other tasks, the timing depending on the level of concentration and if they concentrate more effectively in the morning or afternoon, are all self-determined. This way the staff member feels they have some control over what they do and are more likely to contribute to a positive work environment. As I am running out of space with this one I will talk about adaptability and collaboration next time.

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