Are you support all team members and encourage cooperation?
Paradox of Empowerment
True power is the ability to relinquish control.
—Olivia Parr Rud
One of the most challenging aspects of leading in the new model is giving up the need for control. And yet with the complexity of business today, it is impossible to micromanage from the top. Years ago, the chief executive officer (CEO) could do the job of practically every person on the company. Today, it is a totally different story.
As discussed in Chapter 4 of my book, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, did not always entrust decision making to others. He started out as a command-and-control type. “If I said, “Turn right,” all 65,000 employees turned right.” But he soon realized that the company couldn’t grow as rapidly as was necessary under that model. So he and his top leadership team invented a new way to run the business.
Not only is it less effective to operate with a top-down leadership style, but it diminishes so much of the energy, wisdom, and vitality of the organization. In the article “The Paradox of Empowerment,” Wayne Baker states that “empowerment means letting go while taking control.” Often this requires leaders to transform the work environment by actively changing “the way people work, relate, think, and feel.” However, they must also allow time for the new empowerment to “take root, grow, and thrive.”
“Like any paradox, the paradox of empowerment is full of traps. It ensnares CEOs who cannot accept or live in the contradiction of taking control and letting go. Such CEOs become abdicators or meddlers. Those who thrive in the paradox become coaches who learn how to cultivate true empowerment.”
Abdicators are good at letting go. But they fail to offer guidance or make the fundamental changes necessary to cultivate emergent leadership such setting goals and establishing empowering processes. Meddlers never really give up control. They say they want self-managed teams, but they often stay too involved and tend to micromanage. This results in team members delegating upward and abdicating responsibility. “Coaches [,however,] know the difference between intervention and interference.”
If the CEO of yesterday’s command-and-control corporation was the military chieftain, then the CEO of tomorrow’s corporation is the philosopher-king. As a philosopher, the CEO develops the comprehensive theory of the corporation as a society. This theory includes an ideology or system of beliefs about human nature, superordinate goals, and shared values, and it encompasses a vision of a better society—a model of the company tomorrow. As a king, the CEO acts decisively to put theory into practice. This demands not just business but social re-engineering—all the deep interventions necessary to transform the corporation.
Empowering CEOs are experts at tapping into the natural desire of people to work in fulfilling and productive jobs. They know that people are motivated by many things besides money, such as “belonging, mastery, self-esteem, achievement, respect.” Meddlers, who generally distrust human nature, feel their employees must be coerced into doing their jobs.
Empowering CEOs create an environment of collaboration and self-direction. They create effective social mechanisms, such as high-level networks that unite and build community.