Today's Reading


Do we have similar challenges at home? To think of our relationships at home as ones that need to be "managed" would degrade the very essence of a home. However, the same problems and dynamics that arise in our organizations inevitably crop up at home, because we are all human. Learning to approach them with an empowered mindset will leave everyone feeling more free and energized. One partner may have significantly more experience, interest, or capability than the other relative to a specific situation or responsibility, whether that's planning a vacation, doing a remodel, paying the bills on time, working out issues with the kids' teachers, or just getting through life's ups and downs.

What if one partner always planned the vacations but simply is tired of that responsibility? Now hoping their partner will pick up this role with the same rigor and competence, how does one let go while the other steps up to take it on—without screwing up their future vacations? I've seen people just give up and forgo the vacation rather than figure this out. And does this apply to dealing with adolescents as they move through their teens, as well as dealing with the transitions of your aging parents? If someone doesn't feel empowered to take action, crucial turning points in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones can end up terribly mismanaged.

Back at work, to better understand what we mean by a team member "taking action and driving decisions," consider the opposite. What if someone routinely is not able to take action, even when it seems appropriate given his or her role and experience? Or what if a team member can't drive decisions that are relevant and within a reasonable scope of that role? For example, imagine a marketing organization in which your role is to help launch new products. Let's say you have ten years of experience working at multiple companies, but virtually every decision you could conceivably make has to go back up to your manager for approval. Clearly some decisions should require higher-level approval, but virtually all of them?

Think about how much that would slow down the work, not just for you in your role, but for all the people involved. Think how frustrated and potentially demeaned people would feel, and consider the implications when great talent feels undervalued and micromanaged. It is not uncommon for team members in these situations to seek new employment elsewhere.

But let's ask a question. Whose job is really at risk if a team member repeatedly fails to deliver or makes a big mistake? I've heard many people ask, "Why won't my manager simply let me try it? If it doesn't work out, they can always fire me!" But whose job is at risk? It's not just the direct report who may be out looking for a new job if something goes wrong. This manager is also culpable in the eyes of his or her leadership.

That is why many managers are reluctant to empower team members or direct reports too much—their own jobs and reputations are at risk if the outcome is less than expected. These leaders may also often think they can do it better and faster than others on their team, perhaps out of their own passion to produce a successful outcome.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are situations in which team leaders can let go too much or appear to be almost reckless in empowering their team members. Many times, these leaders are so busy with their own work that they lose sight of the role they play in leading their team members.

For example, have you ever been told, "You're empowered—make it happen"? You could interpret it as a firm commitment of your manager's support—clarification that you are now in charge of driving the outcome, have unlimited authority, and may even be able to stretch the rules given the importance of the outcome. But what if your team leader says this when the schedule is particularly tight, the scope is too vague, and the other executives are not fully on board? Then you may actually feel a bit set up—not for success, but for failure. These situations are clearly sub-optimal and could result in talent leaving or poor business results.

This excerpt ends of page 16 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Power of Ethics: How to Make Good Choices in a Complicated World by Susan Liautaud.

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