There are many ways to influence people and get things done, and they all boil down to four capabilities: the ability to create a vision, to convince and mobilise others, to control how they effectively deliver on their commitment, and to trust people. Of these four, trust is the most powerful, and the most difficult to unleash. It is possible to hone visionary skills, to fine tune ways to beat the drum, or to develop unintrusive checks and controls. All the focus there is on improving personal leadership skills. The major hurdle to trusting people is that it brings uncertainty about the response staff would have to unexpected problems.
Yet, it is through the test of difficult decisions that people can develop their judgment and adjust their thinking. The amount of preparation required to coach staff cannot be underestimated, and the temptations to revert to command and control have to be resisted many times over. Give your staff enough time to make mistakes and you will develop sooner than you think capabilities that were only latent. From that point on, the nature of information exchange will evolve profoundly. As staff become autonomous decision makers, line managers need to shift from giving instructions and checking their execution to sharing wider corporate information and provide their staff with the context in which their prospective decisions need to be taken. With teams made of thinkers and decision makers, expect more challenging discussions about objectives and the art of the possible, instead of relying on the input of a manager effectively acting as a bottleneck.
So, when you assess the ability of your organisation to embark on new challenges, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions:
- How do you take decisions? Are there bottlenecks caused by excessive controls?
- What is your tolerance to failure? Is management meddling with people's work?
- What is the level of engagement of staff? Do leaders surround themselves with cheerleaders? Are there pockets of high attrition?