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Organizational and Departmental Permission

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closed systemsThe greatest privilege I have with my job is the ability to work with many different companies and individuals. I enjoy learning the craft of their jobs and also the challenges they face in the workplace. As I began to write an article this month I stopped and reflected backwards to not only my career but the work over the last several months. As leaders and managers many of the core skills and behaviors we exhibit, have been taught to us by our managers and leaders along the way. We are the sum of all our experiences, and some of my experiences are worth reviewing and others I just wish could be pushed out of my thoughts. Our experience is what shapes us to who we are today. While working with a group of managers from an organization, I tasked them to put some of the workshop learning into use. The group left and, several weeks later when we met again, I asked the group to tell me about their experiences they had setting expectations with their staff. The room became quiet and you could hear a pin drop. No one shared their individual experience, as I moved in the conversation it became apparent that the group was waiting for permission from their managers. Many organizations face the same issue and a supervisor or manager might wait for permission before taking a risk. The subject is not only intriguing but challenging. So what is the reasoning of why managers feel the need to ask for permission? Or, wait for permission for that matter. Here are a couple of thoughts:

Economy: As the economy creeps along and we slowly dig ourselves out, many businesses have found themselves looking toward safe business practices and risk aversion. The safety also trickles down to the managers and leaders of the organization. You may not be as willing to do something that makes you stand out. Asking for permission takes a certain amount of risk, especially if you are fearful every day that you run the risk of failure. Many individuals find themselves hunkered down doing the best they can but not wanting to put a flood light on themselves or their position. They are more likely to wait and have their leaders tell them to go and do it.

History: Past history or the embedded culture can often stifle people, leaving them with the feeling or need to wait for their boss to direct them as compared to independently working. If the climate within the organization is a climate of top down leadership or aggressive/fast-paced behavior, people may feel intimidated or concerned for their jobs. The intimidation can be overt and in this case the person can have the fear of rejection by not only their boss but potentially their peer group as well. No matter what it is, from rejection to being publically overturned, the history can build a wall. If you work in a climate where it is everyone for themselves and the leadership has been viewed as tough, people might be more willing to look good and very doing well.

Failure: Without risk there is no reward. As we discussed in the two previous sections the way failure is handled can be very monumental. With the human equation, no matter what it might be, mistakes will be made. How these mistakes are viewed and discussed can make the difference. People might view asking for permission as an acceptance to responsibility. Failures are learning opportunities that help us to become better. I would love to say that the biggest lessons I learned in life were from positive experiences. This could not be further from the truth, I have learned from the mistakes I have made. When failures are used as learning opportunities, the individuals might be more willing to take a risk.

So what do you do? As I reflect backwards to my career and look at some of the greatest lessons I have learned, my lessons were met with a small amount of personal pain. I think in particular to an experience in the 90's, when I worked for a leader named Steve. Steve and I had a working relationship and I considered him to be fair but tough. As a leader he could be intimidating, but he was also very good at his craft. During this period, I felt I was ready and capable to take on the next promotion or position, which was essentially his job to help me with.

Over several months, Steve and I would sit down to discuss departments and individual and team performance. I would often think that, since I brought to him the best details and questions when I needed answers involving production, performance and staffing, that I was successful. I was often met with the "you're not ready" comment, which led to frustration.

In the early spring I was closing the restaurant down and there was a large commotion in the kitchen. As I entered into the kitchen there appeared to be a fairly heated debate and subsequent aggression between two employees. The situation was caused by an employee who was the individual aggressor and the other employee a cook was defending himself. After separating the two and trying to get the shift running again, there was no question that there needed to be disciplinary actions taken against the aggressor. I entered the office and I called Steve. He was half asleep when he answered the phone. As I went on to explain to him in detail what had happened, I heard a large sigh. As I asked him what to do and if it was okay to send the employee home, I was met with tension from Steve. "If you cannot make these decisions, what am I paying you for?" he asked, as I went on to explain I was looking for permission. He stopped me and went on to ask why I had called him and if he should get out of bed and come to work. I quickly ended the conversation and thanked him for his time. The next day Steve asked me to have lunch with him. We sat down and discussed what had happened the previous night. As Steve and I sat and discussed my poor decision of calling him, we spoke of making decisions and taking risks. I walked away from the conversation a little embarrassed with the fact I would not make a decision or act unless I had permission. Over the next several months, I made a few decisions that were met with displeasure from Steve, but never once did the conversation involve why I did not ask for permission.

I am not suggesting that Steve's approach is the approach that should be used to get people involved and move them to make decisions or take risks without permission. So how do you give and get permission. Here are a few thoughts.

Set Guidelines: Give permission to people, if there is not a clear understanding or a process of reviewing decisions and actions people might feel it is too risky to try. It is hard for all leaders to let people take chances and on occasion fail, yet it is one of the best places to build trust and confidence in them. Leaders need to define and expect their supervisors and managers to move forward and take risks. It is also important to think about not all risks involve money or materials. A risk might involve setting expectations for the team.

Build a Business Case: Take time to sit down and discuss with your boss some guidelines. Understand what you need to ask for permission for. What it is he or she expects from you and what is a good process on how to make decisions and take action. If the time together is looked as a method of development and not as a reprimand, you can start to move without waiting for permission. This is risky but as they always say..."Without risk there is no reward."

The above thoughts are just a few ways to lessen the need for permission. As you think about the this article, we are curious if you've had some success in overcoming the need to wait for permission. We hope you will share what you've experienced with us.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Craig Twombly
Priority Learning

Craig is the primary facilitator at Priority Learning, he is responsible for conducting an array of leadership series offered and consulting assignments from communications to team development in organizations ranging from the service industries to finance, manufacturing and more. Having extensive experience at balancing the business needs with the wants and desires of people are Craig's strongest assets.



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