Empowering Your People – Crazy – Like a Fox!



Here’s my favorite line from my favorite book on leadership:

“Credible leaders accept and act upon the paradox of power: We become most powerful when we give our power away.” – Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge.

Some never get this. They are threatened by staff. Their ego needs to be in control. They fear mistakes. Their organization tells them it’s dangerous to share freedom, responsibility, and power. Here’s their patron saint: “We follow orders, son,” Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) snaps at Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) in A Few Good Men.  “We follow orders or people die.”

Increasingly, enlightened leaders understand that the new world demands that we give power away.  Even in the army, which has historically advanced Colonel Jessup’s impassioned rationale for control, change is rapid as the circumstances of war are now radically different.  In the new army, situations shift unpredictably; the enemy doesn’t stand across a battle line, wear identical uniforms, and move as one, directed by a single commander.  And so the army strives tries to teach soldiers the principles and missions to allow them to make on-the-spot decisions. The army becomes powerful when the command can decentralize power.

Likewise in businesses, the “battles” move more quickly – online, through technology, with up-start start-ups, and demanding customers. And so workers up and down the line – in the greatest businesses – have the authority to get the customer or client what they need. It simply won’t work to take a week to percolate every question up and down the food chain.

Last week I was training a really great group of folks from a California government agency.  I asked them this question, which I invite you to ponder:  If you were WILDLY committed to empowering your people, acting on this paradox of power, what might you do?  How could you really take radical steps to upskill your people – to help them be knowledgable, skilled, confident, etc.?

Ravi, from the back of the room, gave the same answer that one of the guys at Google’s Ann Arbor office had given when I had asked a similar question to their managing team a couple years ago.  And he gave it in the same way:  I can imagine John Madden describing these identical comments and the way they delivered them, like he used to say on Monday Night Football:  “The guy was sitting there, and then it was, like, it was, like it was, BOOM, the running back hit the hole and he was gone; nobody could catch him.”  “Boom,” as Madden would say, because it was as if these two guys had each been hit by lightning and in turn shot everyone else a bolt.  Shut us all up.  Made us really think….wow…could you do that…would “they” let you…what would happen…cool.  I don’t know if the fellow at Google did it or whether Ravi will.  And here’s the “it,” here’s what they said they would do if they were wild about empowering their folks:  “I would have people on my team do my job, and I would do theirs.”

Man, I love that idea!!!  Anybody out there tried it?  Anybody want to weigh in?  How about this:  Has anybody done it with their kids – invited them to do your job at home for a week?  I’d love to hear about that too!

It sure would give people a sense of empowerment and one cool opportunity to

Lead with their best self!