When pressure mounts at work is usually when leaders speak most of empowerment. In truth they are looking for greater initiative. With high expectations to see an impact on performance, few things rile leaders more than advocating for employee empowerment and seeing little employee initiative in return.
Left frustrated, leaders often rationalize this “apathy” as the sign that something is wrong with employee motivation: disinterest, laziness, stupidity, stubbornness, or the like. In isolated instances character “flaws” could be valid explanations, but if this perceived “apathy” is pervasive, something else is necessarily at work.
Trust — the Missing Link
When I look at situations where employees lack initiative, a strong correlation usually reveals itself with what leaders themselves are doing . Fundamentally a lack of engagement stems from the absence of trust in the leader. Trust builds from many different aspects, but two are critical for leaders: they must be trusted as leader and as a person.
Candor in the workplace as Jack Welch describes is the necessary lubricant for organizations to run well. What prevents candor is fear.
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Viewpoint on Candor in the Workplace
In our experience, candor grows when leaders have established the following prerequisite conditions: safety, trust, clarity and transparent accountability.
Whether it is in sports or in business, it’s commonly accepted that a “star team” will outperform a “team of stars”. How competent people work together to accomplish the tasks at hand accounts for as much, if not more, than the sum of their individual talents. The dilemma in organizations is that many working groups never succeed in tapping this higher level of synergy because they get embroiled in day-to-day work pressures and conflicting priorities.
Working with teams in trouble, we find that the real source of problems is rarely technical in nature even when signs seem to indicate that it is. The source of problems usually reveals itself after just a couple of hours, when project members clamor for better communication; problems invariably stem from people dynamics.