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When a leader says “I have seen too many of these types of situations”, is it possible that he might be projecting his experience to a new situation?

I had an interesting discussion with a reader about empowerment after he read my previous post “Cooperate Employees vs. Entrepreneurs”. The discussion took me into deeper thought about a leader’s personal experience and how it could make a significant impact on the organization’s culture.

Lessons learned are good. At the same time, a leader allowing a judgment to influence an organization could be risky. The Chinese have a saying that if you have been bitten by a snake, a rope will frighten you for the next ten years. The pain of being bitten was so severe that a rope appearing as a snake could trigger you to respond as if it were a snake.

Leaders may see a rope and have a concern that they may be bitten. They either don’t want to take the risk or they tell the organization to watch out for the snake. Over time, the organizational culture could be shaped by the fear of the leaders.

What to do about building an empowering culture?

1. Aligning actions with the vision, mission and value of the company

For example, during the hiring process, if your company delivers blue ocean products and values creativity and integrity, determine if the candidates have creativity and integrity. When employee performance is not satisfactory, find out if this is due to value misalignment or a capability issue. Then take actions accordingly. This mindset creates clear and transparent processes.

2. Collecting data with the intention of improvement

For example,

  • Listen to new employees before they adapt to the culture. Don’t be busy molding them so that you will not hear their observations from their fresh point of view.
  • Perform a regular employee engagement survey. If the result is poor, additional 360-degree interviews should be conducted to discover the pain points. A quick fix will not solve the root problem.
  • Perform exit interview when an employee decides to leave the company. Sometimes an employee may leave because their value system is not in alignment with management. If an exit interview is skipped, the story could be distorted and information could be missing.

3. Developing leaders’ emotional intelligence (EQ)

When leaders have high EQ, they are capable of managing their fears and building a culture of trust. They will be able to move the organization culture from “us vs. them” to “we”. It will be expressed in the interview process as “What can ‘we’ do together?”

After Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, all of his actions were towards the realization of the dream. People sharing his vision were empowered to work together. The book 2020 Workplace points out employers needs to be ready to meet the needs of 5 generations employees while each generation brings a unique perspective.

As a leader, how to you plan to empower your organization today and in 2020?

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