As leaders, most of us are rubbish. Not totally rubbish, but we could do better.
We are our own worst enemies. When we should be giving control away we seem to do the opposite and try to take it. It is as if we can’t help ourselves.
Our people do what we say as if we have some secret power, some special knowledge, that we were given with the job of director; and so, they do what we ask, even if they know we are wrong. How infuriating is that. We talk the big talk about empowering and then we dis-empower. How soul-destroying must that be for our reports?
The key to how disempowered your people are is in the language they use when they talk to us. How often do you hear phrases like:
“I would like to…”
“Would it be OK if…”
“What should I do about…”
These are all the words of people who believe they need the leader to lead. They need to ask permission. It is symptomatic of them not being willing to make their own decision unless the leader gives permission. It is all wrong. And L. David Marquet nailed this in his book, ‘Turning the Ship Around’.
If you want people to become more empowered, it is crucial to change the language that people use. Then they start to take ownership and control.
Here are the three words that can change the entire management structure.
“I intend to…”
These phrases will also have a similar effect: “I plan to…” or “I will…”
When your Head of Operations comes to you and says, “I intend to use a new reporting system” or “I intend to have weekly meetings on Monday at 8.30”, they are letting you know that they have thought the problem through. It is not your decision and actually you shouldn’t be involved in every decision. Your reply is “Excellent idea” or similar. Yes, you have given permission, but the control and ownership has switched to being in their hands.
For a more complicated issue, the report might provide additional information like “I intend to…. It is the fastest and cheapest way of delivering the required solution.” The benefit of them extending the sentence means that they are thinking about what you might do. They are thinking and acting at a higher level.
The impact of the three words is that the boss is not making every decision. Ask your reports to present ideas to you in the form of “I intend to…”. It may take a little while to bed in, but it is liberating for all concerned. By letting go, you are spreading ownership and letting the team do the hard work. Making them take more ownership. And giving you more time to deal with bigger issues.