Making Leaders – Not Victims: 3 Ways to Unleash Autonomy with the Right Environment

September 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Parents and teachers face daunting challenges. Students in the US rank 14th in reading, 25th in math, and 17th in science skills in world education rankings. Bullying is rampant with 77 percent of all students are being bullied verbally in some way or another including mental bullying or even verbal abuse, 56 percent, of all students have witnesses a bullying crime, 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied and, 71 percent of students that report bullying as an on-going problem.
Tools that were supposed to work have failed. No Child Left behind has failed with waivers being provided to 19 of 50 states. Standardized testing has failed as measured by world rankings and by the achievement gap being the highest in history.
Why are our schools failing? The system is creating victims not leaders and dependency not autonomy. A reliance on grades and standardized testing is killing autonomy of both teachers and students. This situation is translated into our workplace. For example, the number one time waster for managers today is dealing with poor performance of people. Nearly 30% of the average manager’s time is spent on poor performers. Nearly 20% of a manager’s time is spent correcting mistakes causes by poor performers.
Other than developing an effective strategy (business model), the ability to manage people issues is the most important skill a leader can develop. This skill can accelerate an organization’s success. When this skill is missing everything slows down. Because change is occurring at hyper speed, global competition is growing fiercer and the need for innovation and knowledge accumulation is increasing, leaders need fully engaged people to address today’s challenges. Because we have created victims in our schools and universities we inherit them in the workplace and begin to believe we must continue to control them because that is what victims expect.
The current leadership model used in both schools and in most workplaces is proving ineffective because it focuses on things that send a message of mistrust and the need for bureaucratic control. This message causes employee engagement levels to stall and innovation to disappear. The victims from the school system enter the workplace and causes managers to cling to the skills they were taught i.e. giving direction and judging people. Employees therefore cling to their victimhood by waiting to be told what to do and remaining fearful of making mistakes (victims). It’s a vicious perpetual cycle. For today’s challenges we need a new model. We need self-management and self-management tools. We need leaders not victims. We need autonomy not dependence.
We know that self-managing employees working in collaborative environments produce superior results. Leaders must know how to engage and develop self-managing teams in order to create more adaptable, innovative, and productive organizations. There are 3 steps leaders can take to reverse this perpetual dysfunctional trend that’s damaging our global competitiveness.
First, leaders must truly trust employees. They must expect them to behave like adults and therefore treat them like adults. They must expect them to care about each other and about their customers. Leaders must expect them to be trustworthy. This is not just empowerment. Empowerment means management is still in control and they are merely giving employees something that the managers can always take away, i.e. power. A leader who truly trusts people is acknowledging that employees already have the power and the leader knows it.
Second, we must rely on principles and less on policy. We must clarify operating principles and stop relying on following more and more bureaucratic policies. Today it seems the typical Human Resource professional must either be an attorney or be totally familiar with laws, regulations, and policies. I spoke at a three day HR conference last year. Two of the three days was devoted to legal issues and government regulations.
A reliance on following policy is death to the ability to adapt to change. Let’s forget the reliance on polices and instead agree on principles that everyone can follow. Here are some examples of principles that can be clarified, “every action must be aligned and consistent with a specific vision and aim.” Here’s another, “every action is consistent with specific values behaviors.” Another could be, “everyone is responsible for identifying and delivering excellent interactions (both interpersonal and process hand offs). The quality of these interactions will be defined by their internal and external customers.”
By following principles instead of policy, employees are able to make quick decisions to improve their performance without a reliance on manager oversight and performance appraisal bureaucracy. They are also able to adapt to quickly changing customer needs and market changes. When we tell employees they must follow policy they are restricted. Their creativity is stunted and their sense of autonomy is lost. Lost autonomy creates victimhood.
Finally, employees must experiment. Trusting them to follow principles and to experiment creates an entrepreneurial environment that optimizes innovation, quality improvement and productivity gains.
We must move away from command and control. We must embrace a different philosophy and a different relationship with employees. We must break this cycle of creating victims. The new model and environment must be based on trust and learning. It must acknowledge and expect employees to be adults with autonomy who experiment.


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