Friday, May 23, 2014

A major way that leaders disempower staff

Picture this all too common scenario. A staff member has been given a responsibility or a project. They spend days or months working on it. When they show it to their supervisor he/she makes significant changes to what has been done so that it fits their preferences.

It is one of the most disempowering actions a leader can take and they often don't realize the damage they do by redoing what they have asked someone else to do.

Some leaders do this routinely, blithely unaware that every time they do it they lose coinage with staff who wonder why they were asked to design something in the first place when it is going to be redone by their leader.  If one is going to delegate authority one must also delegate responsibility and be willing to live with the result unless there are glaring issues unaddressed. 

Leaders who routinely change the work of their staff are usually doing so because something does not fit their own personal preferences. But how is a staff member to know what those preferences are and why are preferences of a leader fair game to change the work that has been delegated? Preferences are just that - preferences - and not non-negotiables. If a leader has a preference they ought to state it up front so the work they have delegated does not need to be redone after the fact - a disempowering action.

Inherent in delegation is the fact that things may not be designed as I would design them. The key is that the objective is reached, not how it is reached in most cases. If I have to redo the work of staff I either have the wrong staff or I am not flexible enough to allow for things to be done in ways other than my own. And that demonstrates a lack of humility as I must have my way. 

1 comment:

Leary Gates said...

Hey Tj. Great post. I've had this done to me and I've done it to others, so I've experienced both the disempowerment you describe as well as the confusion of a leader when they wonder why their suggestions are disempowering others.

Another possible motivation (more benign than personal preference) may be at work in the leader that habitually does this. It may simply be that they are a more of a possibility thinker and need the help of someone to frame up a straw man that they can react and help build upon. These leaders simply need jump starts to envision an outcome that they want to help build and are asking their team to provide the jump start. It's not true delegation but it's perceived that way when it's assigned because the one providing the jump start has to make the first cut.

Even in this case, as you suggest, open communication about these dynamics and understanding of expectations is key to healthy leadership.

Great stuff. Thanks TJ.