It’s for the birds!
This is an extraordinary and, at the same time, difficult time in the history of the territory. It’s a time when administration is trying to empower those on the front line without (as they say) “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” It was, I believe, in one of the One Minute Manager book series (the one for teams I seem to recall) that empowerment was described as “letting go so that others can get going.” It’s a good description because it doesn’t say “letting go so that others are free to do nothing!”
I am not active in territorial administration now, so I can give you my impression that empowering also can give rise to fear…fear that–in letting go–all accountability (I was going to say control, but accountability says it so much better) might be lost. There will, I guess, always be a danger that some who–having been given freedom in determining programs to be kept or dropped–will abuse or misuse that privilege by dropping more than is necessary or wise.
So, in attempting to turn the management pyramid upside down, we have to realize there are two sides to the issue. Empowerment calls for quality leadership from the pyramid point (now at the bottom) and involves such things as: clarifying purpose and expectations, delegating authority, allowing risk taking and maintaining urgency levels. It is a change of stance resulting in administration asking, of levels it serves, “How can we help you?”
The other side is, for the empowered, accountability. This calls for quality management of the freedoms given and involves such things as: exercise of integrity, insuring checks and balances, stewardship, and control of processes.
Just as “love and marriage,” empowerment and accountability go together like a “horse and carriage–you can’t have one without the other!”
But, there’s another side to the issue…
In a USA Eastern Territory division a few years ago, the divisional commander addressed his corps officers. He said (as many other leaders have in various settings), “I give you freedom to try new things and fail.” As soon as he said this, several officers stood, one after the other, and questioned the freedom being given.
At the time, the image in my mind was that the divisional commander was opening the door of the “prison cell” yet some of the “prisoners” inside declined to step out. My impression was that they would rather have someone to blame than to take on responsibility themselves.
General (then Commissioner) John Gowans once put it this way–“I am very much afraid that, if we open the door of the cage, the canary will have forgotten how to fly!”
It’s an astute observation because, if for years we have been guilty of a rigid control and micro-manage stance, it would not be a surprise that some “canaries” lack the skills to fly because they never have been taught how or been allowed to attempt to fly.
This poses a challenge to both empowerer and empowered. For the former, the challenge is to insure the skills needed are taught. For the latter it is to be teachable.
Empowerment. It literally is “for the birds” isn’t it!