Author Archives: Paul LaRue
A few weeks ago an article in Forbes expressed how leaders can use power for good in their organizations.
Leadership and power can carry a positive influence with the right heart attitude. But when corrupted by self serving interests, power and leadership become terrible partners.
Understanding the basic types of power that can occur in leadership will help us understand – and at best, become self-aware – what power can do to one in the role.
Power can either be identified in two focuses, either power of self or power of others. Yet these types can be applied and manifest in various ways across these two separate focuses. Let’s quickly breakdown these types to understand the impact of power through various leadership personas.
Power Over. This is overt and subvert, demanding or passive-aggressive, power to control another person. It comes from a leader wanting to exalt themselves by marginalizing others. It can take the form of various types of harassment, racism, bullying and threats, and usually is found in a “command-and-control” mindset. This type of power sees hierarchy as the end goal, and the leader ascending ranks and status for themselves by using others as their stepping stones.
Power Through. A leader who piles onto their people without regard for their well-being is someone who powers through others. It is one of the contributing factors to the work-life and employee well-being crises we see today. The characteristic of these leaders is they see people as a means, a resource, or capital. They feel that everyone on their teams need to act like owners, work as hard as they do, or should eat/work/live their jobs so the company, and the leader, can be successful. Under the guise of teamwork and making sure everyone is committed, this power ignores the limits and balance of the human spirit.
Power of Misdirection. Deferring, blame-shifting and gaslighting are all ways to keep power by tactics that misdirect. When leaders don’t answer questions directly, or with a positive spin or political-speak, they seek to keep their people off-balance by controlling the narrative, the information and the advantage. By not playing straight and talking truthfully, giving vague or blatant lies to get employees off the scent of what is really going on is another way leaders can abuse power.
Empower. This is a leader giving power equally and generously to their people, without playing favorites, discrimination or fearing for their own careers and livelihood. it is the pivot point where a leader liberally shares power with others rather than hoarding some for themselves. While empowering leadership doesn’t mean giving up the role or responsibility that is incumbent upon them, it means they have found the most effective way to meet basic human needs in giving people vision, value and voice, resulting in rewarding work and sustainable success. It’s the willing transfer of the the opportunity they’ve been given to enrich others, while ensuring no one has been expended in the process.
Power, like electricity, is neutral. Wrongfully applied, it can cause great harm and can even be fatal. Power in leadership, corrupted by wrongful, prideful and selfish motives can also cause great harm and life-altering after effects.
But in the right hands, and with the right heart-attitude, power can be multiplied instead of hoarded, leading to an impact that will illuminate the lives and careers of those it touches.
Create a power that emanates out and empowers others rather than force them to wear out, retreat or stay in their lane.
If you were to consider what defines a “fearless” workforce, what would be the defining characteristics?
These traits most likely would come to mind:
- Overcoming obstacles
- Creating new solutions
- Bold communication
These characteristics are effective behaviors against external challenges. Yet more importantly, they are even more critical against internal challenges that keep an organization fearful from within.
Many studies have been conducted on this topic, and a particular one from Gustavo Razzetti’s Fearless Cultures initiative resonates with what many others discuss.
Truly fearless organizations by and large are noted for transforming their culture from one that gets the worst out of people to one that gets the best from all of their people. They are fearless from the inside challenges, which enables people to act from a point of freedom and focus that is not counter-productive to survival mechanisms.
For context, here are some of the behaviors an internally fearful organizaiton exhibits:
- Cutthroat behaviors to get “one-up” on another employee or “internal competitor“
- Silenced people who protect their jobs, and short-term peace, in the face of bullying and other threats
- Silos, whereby people need to “stay in their lane”, that squelch collaboration
- Top-down hierarchy that does not lend to being accountable at the top
Fearless cultures, on the other hand, allow for autonomy, change to the status quo and traditional norms, and protect people who wish to speak on any topic that is a barrier to personal, team, or organizational growth.
If we reviewed the first few traits of a true and internally fearless culture, we could apply them in the following manner:
- Overcoming obstacles – removing internal barriers, personalities and behaviors that instill and leverage fear
- Creating new solutions – allowing innovation to flow freely from any individual, paving the way for agile collaboration
- Bold communication – speaking up without repercussions, holding others mutually (yet respectfully) accountable
- Unequivocal Trust In Leadership – employees trust their leaders are looking out for mutual benefit and not the leader’s own interests
Changing your culture to one that is not ruled by fear internally is a process of creating fully accountable mechanisms, allowing everything and everyone to be questioned and challenged, and fostering a safe environment that allows for mistakes, failure and experimentation instead of mere ROI results on every dollar.
The organization that embraces this type of culture shift is like an automobile engine that has been tuned up. The gunk has been removed, the fluids are fresh and moving, and the energy has been boosted as connections and conduits have been cleaned from corrosion.
Some of the more positive results of internally fearless cultures is that they allow for the workplace to be:
- More self aware, both individually and culturally in not allowing fear to manifest
- Create an atmosphere to have straight, tough questions and open talk
- Support failure, allowing for individuals and teams to learn, grow and become better
- Invite participation and collaboration inclusively from all parties
Creating a fearless culture takes, no pun intended, courage to changes that might be met with resistance from the best performers, particularly ones with power bases to lose. Yet it’s those behaviors that are needed to be overcome to unlock the potential of everyone by allowing psychological safety and true 360-degree accountability to permeate the company.
Fearless organizations take a lot of work to change, but once transformed can perpetually keep itself in a sustained environment of courage and inclusivity for all voices to matter in the company.
Ask yourself this week, do your people fear others outside, or inside, the organization?
Last week we looked into how the empty customer chair should work in customer-centric organizations. By implementing the premise properly and with the right intentions, companies can see a tremendous shift into their ability to gain trust in their customers.
Now what if we tried to implement a similar method for employees with the empty chair?
When companies think about who they truly serve, customers seem to take priority and employees tend to be forgotten, squeezed out by the push for more revenue. Yet employees are not part of an “either/or” equation, but are just as vital as customers and should always merit sincere consideration as “AND” in the equation.
Taking the same technical approaches as one does for the customers chair, let’s map out how the organization should consider the employee chair.
Employee Viewpoint. Consider what the typical employee must contend with on a daily and weekly basis. Are they overworked and stressed from no work-life imbalance? Does leadership minimize their concerns and efforts? What is the meta (macro and micro) of the comments (not just ratings) of the latest employee surveys? By thinking through all conversations and how a front line worker will view the attitudes, language, intentions and agendas of leadership, this first step will get management more attuned to how the employees really view the company.
Employee Impact. Whenever a new system, campaign or procedure is being planned out, the impact to the employee should be discussed. Will this add to their workload? Even a few extra minutes to today’s employee will seem onerous. Will there be proper training? Just showing them quickly and expecting full competency with little ongoing follow up will create frustration to the team. Will this enable them or prevent them from being more customer facing? These questions and answers need to be genuinely answered, and not in a flippant fashion that lets leadership move onto the next project once it’s been “handed off” to the team members. Focus on what’s best from their viewpoint, not easier for management.
Employee Voice. Think of three types of employees: the average worker, the skeptic and the stressed employee. What would they say about the conversations, ideas, and strategic plans being offered around the table? What questions would they have? What other types of employee voices are in your organization? Many times, leaders only consider the voice of a few, typically the top performers or the poorest performers, and dismiss the latter as problem employees and only consider that the top members will be happy with these changes. Considering that others besides the top or bottom performers statistically make up 70-80% of your employee base, the majority of the voice needs to be more represented in these sessions.
Alignment of Mission. Ask yourselves – do the employees really, truly understand our mission and core values? Do we promote them at every session? (And do we actually take real time to do this, instead of checking the box?) Many employees feel that company mission and values are not expressly given to them, leaving them with a feeling of disconnect. If leaders can consider that well over 50% of employees need a better vision of mission and can dovetail this into their initiatives, they would gain an incredible advantage into their recruiting and retention efforts, as well as raising the level of alignment in the organization. Keep discussions with a keen mindset of elevating mission alignment in the team at large.
Employee Well-Being. Prior to the covid pandemic, employee well-being was the fastest growing concern among both leadership and employees heading into 2020. As we emerge from the wake of this epidemic, employee well-being is more fragile than ever, and leaders should make this a core priority in every discussion. How to eliminate (or at least reduce) employee stress, distrust about their company leaders, job security and overall health should be a leader’s core function going forward. In addition to how the above points play into the role of well-being, contemplate how leaders behaviors and biases contribute as well. Being mindful of the employee holistically will probably be the most beneficial endeavor any organization will undertake.
Having this practice will help ensure that the employee is always at the center of your organization. Along with the customer, it will pay dividends not just for leadership and shareholders, but all constituents.