Oh, The Power of a Leader!

by Jan Yuill

I met with a senior government official the other day. He told me the story of a federal department that had been revolutionized by its leader. The workforce, under this leader became creative, energized, and committed. What they were doing, and the way they were doing it, stood out as a beacon of hope and an example to others.

Then the leadership was changed. In a matter of a very few months, this new leader has managed to stifle the efforts and initiatives of his employees. “They are terrified to do anything in case they do it wrong,” this manager told me. “They have been shut down entirely, and in such short time.”

When I use the Organizations Alive! model to understand what has happened in this government department, it is obvious that the previous leader had recognized the importance of the Membership Potential in his organization, and in particular, how they as members could bring the Strategic Vision to life (The Fourth Interface). The present leader seems to be operating from a Resource Management emphasis, with a focus on doing things right. Following the rules is important for consistency and accountability, but unless they permit people to do their best, the workplace can become a sterile and threatening place. No one wants to make a mistake! Creativity and enthusiasm only flourish when people feel they can speak up and try things out; and when mistakes are viewed as a source of learning and improvement, not reprimand.

This new leader could engage his employees in discussions about his expectations regarding accountabilities (The Sixth Interface). It would probably require some courage on his part, but he may discover that they have some good ideas about how to get things done in an efficient, effective, and economical way. And in so doing, he might also discover their creativity, energy, and commitment.