I have found this difficult tension in our organization which I’m sure is prevalent in other organizations – big or small, but most likely in larger organizations.
There seems to exist this tension that revolves around empowerment of leaders at every level of the organization. How does an organization empower staff to lead directionally, yet maintain directionally what those in seats of organizational leadership have determined to be the overall direction of that organization? That is one long and wordy sentence! Hopefully it makes some kind of sense though.
Here’s what I mean. If I lead a department within an organization, I am a part of that overall organization and not simply leading “my” department in isolation of the organization. That means I must have the organizations direction as my framework and direction foundational to how I lead my department. As the leader of that department, it’s selfish and immature to cry “foul” simply because I cannot lead my department any direction I want to go. Smart, strong and effective leaders stay in touch with the organizational leadership so that they can lead their department in harmony with the direction of the overall organization. When, as the leader of a department, I sense that my department needs to shift in a new direction, I would be wise to collaborate with those in positions above me so that the new direction for my department is in alignment with the overall organization. Those above me have information and knowledge organizationally which I don’t have, nor should have, access to. If my sensed direction does takes me outside of the organizational direction, I have a couple of options.
One, I can simply accept that and continue to lead as I have been. (This is lazy leadership.) Two, I can lobby for my sensed direction in a healthy way by bringing more education and understanding to those above me. (This is leading up and is great leadership.) Three, I can complain and create division within the infrastructure of the organization because I didn’t get my way – complaining that “no one ever listens to me.” (This is selfish leadership.) Four, I can look for new ways to accomplish what I sense which lines up with what the organizational leaders have determined. (This is innovative and effective leadership.) Five, I can determine that I am so convinced that I can only lead in the direction I’ve sensed and since it doesn’t line up, I probably need to go find another organization where it does line up. (This is wise and humble leadership.)
The fact that organizational leaders determine the organizational direction and expect those leading departments to align their direction with that overall direction is not a lack of empowerment. It’s good organizational sense. If empowerment meant that the directional keys are handed to departmental leaders and teams without any expectations of alignment with the organization, then there would be unhealthy chaos and a lack of collective focus. Departmental leaders are empowered to lead with a good understanding of the overall direction and to help progress their departments towards that direction. This is where momentum is gained and hills are conquered. If you as a departmental leader don’t have a good understanding of the overall direction, then go find out. Don’t sit in an office somewhere whining that no one communicates to you. Communication is a two-way street and leaders lead…..they don’t sit and moan.
This tension can easily cause one to say that organizations that function in this way should only hire those who can execute what the organizational leaders have determined and should not hire leaders. I disagree emphatically with this belief. Organizations should hire those who can lead most effectively in tune with the overall organization. When leaders lead at every level of the organization in alignment with the overall direction, organizational leaders will trust, respect and follow those at every level. This is what a healthy organization does. If you don’t feel trusted, respected or followed by others around you, especially in positions of authority, maybe it’s time to humbly go and seek the reason why.1 Comment »