Just do what I tell you to do

We can have teams in our workplaces that are composed of people who are either obedient or empowered by their leaders.

Unfortunately, many workplaces favour the former over the latter. This is usually not a conscious decision. From a young age we are taught to be obedient versus empowered. Seth Godin points this out in his TedxYouth presentation, Stop Stealing Dreams. We are taught to respond to the requests of teachers, adults and authority figures without question as children. We are told to always ask permission before doing something, to seek approval on all our work, and to measure up to pre-set levels of “normal”. And in the end, we learn to question our own judgement.

It’s only natural then that many teams fall into the same format of obedient workers who are compliant to the requests and wishes of their leaders; who remain compliant and submissive to another’s will.

The problem is, no great work is accomplished by a tame and passive team.

We all remember those kids who bucked the trend in school. Who didn’t always do what the teacher told them – not because they were bad, but because they wanted to know why something was being done so they could judge its worth themselves before doing it. They wanted to have control over what they did, and we all secretly envied their daring.

We need the adult versions of those kids on our teams now. People who are strong and confident, and feel in control of their work and able to voice their opinions.

Team leaders must work hard to empower their followers by giving them authority and power over their work. They need to permit and encourage people to speak their minds (respectfully), even it means disagreeing with their leader. Leaders must allow them to have a say over the work they do and how they do it. They need to equip and enable their team members with the right skills, knowledge and equipment to ensure they can excel.

In his Fast Company article, How I Learned to Step Back and Give My Team Real Power, Alex Budak writes that this style of leadership inspires more creative, motivated and solution-oriented teams.

He says, “The true measure of a leader isn’t what she does but what her leadership makes possible.”

Only by empowering teams will people feel engaged with, and energized by, the work they do and those they do it with. Only when people feel in control and confident, will they bring their ‘A’ game.