Discover when tightening the rules can give you freedom

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Photo courtesy of tawalker (Creative Commons)

As leaders, how we empower our teams can make the difference between accomplishing great things or sinking into a broiling mess of mundane details and frustrations. Especially at a nonprofit organization utilizing hundreds of volunteers, lack of communication and empowerment can hold the agency back from helping many of the people it is intended to assist.

At the recent Global Leadership Summit, and in his book The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni shares the importance of educating and inspiring your team through the clear communication of your core values and your strategic anchors.

Without guidelines such as these, people will be hesitant to make decisions on their own and your office will have a revolving door as people continually come to you for guidance, even on simple things.

In my mind, the strategic anchors are like the fence around the playground. They are the boundaries within which your team can feel comfortable making choices. They are the criteria that guide all decisions throughout the organization at every level.

The example Lencioni gives is Southwest Airlines, whose strategic anchors are so well communicated throughout the company, that even a clerk at the ticket counter can make a decision if it meets all 3 of the criteria, saving the customer time and frustration of having to wait on a supervisor, explaining their situation again, etc. etc.

That’s one of the reasons Southwest Airlines continues to gain such high marks for customer satisfaction.

The first priority is to establish the strategic anchors for your organization, which can be a sloppy exercise. My team is currently working to identify our core values and strategic anchors and the difficulty is narrowing the scope to the two or three things that absolutely must be true for any major decision. What are the deal-breakers? What is at the core of our organization?

Once you determine the anchors, the process cannot stop there. Those anchors won’t help anyone make a decision if they are written down and tucked away in a file. You and your leadership team must clearly communicate (and OVER communicate) – to everyone in the organization, what those anchors are so that team members understand the significance.

One-on-one coaching will be important as your team begins to understand that they are empowered to make decisions within the guidelines of those anchors. Most team members will be new to the idea of permission, so as your leaders work with them, they must be clear and consistent on the significance of those strategic anchors.

But imagine the results. What a boost to morale and to productivity throughout your organization when people are comfortable making decisions within the boundaries of those anchors. You will be freed up to do the kind of high level thinking and planning that can only come when you aren’t mired up in daily details, and your team might surprise you by raising the bar with even better ideas, solutions and decisions. Your customers or clients will experience better service. A win-win-win!

How have you as a leader empowered your team members to make decisions?