People & Human Resources

Disempowering leadership

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Up until today, someone close to me has been working in an oppressive, autocratic government workplace. I find it incredible that here we are in the year 2007 and there are still organisations like this one.

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Up until today, someone close to me has been working in an oppressive, autocratic government workplace. I find it incredible that here we are in the year 2007 and there are still organisations like this one.

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The organisation in question spends a fortune hiring new people. It pays for a recruitment firm to put candidates through a many-layered selection process, finally choosing only a handful of people from thousands of applicants.

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All this is done with the aim of changing the culture of the organisation. It aims to bring in new people who have the kind of qualities that will bring a new strength and empathy to the organisation that for so many years has been bureaucratic, hierarchical and “old school” in the way people are managed.

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But every time I hear another anecdote about this workplace I am shocked. It seems that anyone who has a suggestion, an idea for improvement, or in any way “questions” or challenges a manager or an inappropriate or ineffective process or policy, ends up being punished or asked to leave. Nothing has changed.

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My friend, whose job involved supervising people in custody, questioned the way a particular daily task was carried out, something many of the staff – even some other managers – considered hazardous. He was ordered to do the task, but refused and offered to do it in a safer way.

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The next day he was taken aside by a senior manager and reprimanded. Nevertheless, the senior manager and three other managers investigated the procedure and agreed it was not safe or sensible. The daily task was called off entirely for all staff from that day. Staff were pleased and proud someone had helped make this change.

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My friend went on two weeks holiday after that day, but on return found he had been demoted, losing his contract position and becoming a casual.

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A week later, now working as a casual, he challenged another inconsistent and unnecessary process of requesting all staff (70 people) departing from a 12 hour shift to wait outside the building at night (often for up to 30 minutes, sometimes in the cold) until given a special “group OK” to leave. This is not a procedure with other shifts, and makes no sense when it is easy to keep or call back any individual who needs to stay longer.

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This happened yesterday. My friend completed his 12 hours, it was cold and raining and there was a huge crowd waiting outside the building for the group OK. He walked to his car and went home. Today my friend was called into the general manager’s office, and after a year of excellent service, diligent work, initiatives, care and empathy for the clients (that many supervisors lack), and never once late, he was told his performance was poor and to leave immediately. <

He is looking at the bright side: he sees this as a great opportunity to find a job in an organisation that wants people who are committed and show initiative!

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Good leaders, managers, supervisors and team leaders need to empower their people, not disempower them! This involves four steps:

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Empower yourself! When people blame and act like victims they are not empowered, so they are unlikely to make good leaders.

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Demonstrate empowerment. When a manager blames others, doesn’t take responsibility and doesn’t demonstrate empowerment, how can the staff be empowered?

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Give management guarantees. Give people a say in what is done and how. To build commitment and loyalty invite participation and use the staff’s expertise, not punish them for thinking. <

Take risks. Be prepared to try things staff suggest, create a learning environment. They may just have ideas that will create improvement.

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Eve Ash is a psychologist, managing director of Seven Dimensions, and producer of the popular Ash.Quarry Productions video Empowering People (A System of Change series) www.7dimensions.com.au

To see the video, click here.

To read more Eve Ash blogs, click here.

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