Leadership is a one of the most used and over used words in the North American language today. It is used in the context of every profession, for example, leadership in politics, leadership in industry, leadership in the military, leadership in education and leadership in sports. It has been blamed and applauded for everything from the inability of the Toronto Maple Leafs being able to win a Stanley Cup over the last forty-five years, to mismanaging the gas plant fiasco in Ontario. It is usually assigned to the most senior levels of an organization. In other words you don’t hear very often about the leadership exhibited on the front lines of organizations, by machine operators, sales clerks or nurses for example. But in reality, it is these very people if engaged and inspired, that act as leaders that can fundamentality differentiate your organization from your competitors. Don’t get me wrong great leadership at the top of organizations is important, even with some of his flaws Steve Jobs has proven that. But what about those hundreds or thousands of workers that show up every day? Do they arrive at work eager to contribute and participate in building the organization or do they just ‘show up’. So how much of the responsibility to be engaged and motivated is the manager’s job and how much is the employees. Well here are some of my thoughts on this. Managers probably can’t single handedly engage and motivate workers, but what they can do is create an environment (recognition, interesting work, development, some decision making authority) where employees feel engaged and motivated by their work. Workers on the other hand do have an obligation to take part but may be more likely to use some of their discretionary effort if they feel like they ‘matter’. Why wouldn’t business owners and leaders be doing everything they possibly can to make employees feel like they matter? Now imagine if instead of having one leader at the top of the organization who was looked to for all the innovative ideas, and the organizational long term vision we instead had hundreds or thousands of employees who wanted through their own free choice to contribute to the organizations success. Imagine the competitive advantage that would provide. Here is an interesting concept - maybe if we treat our staff like leaders they might actually act like leaders?
This is not a simple concept for many managers because in order to do this you have to give up some things like control, and some decision making authority. You will have to trust your staff, and give them some autonomy over how they do their jobs while running the risk that they may not do everything the ‘way you would do it’ or ‘the way it has always been done’. But just imagine when it works!