Releasing the Power of Employees

In the book, the Adult Learner, by Malcom Knowles, et. al., I found some surprising insights into leadership. While the book is about learning theory, one chapter's discussion centers around contrasting two types of leaders: controlling and creative leaders. More about this in a moment, but first let's take a peek at the mindset that opens up this analysis.

Systems of Human Energy

Several years ago I began an intellectual adventure that has paid high dividends in terms of understanding the role of leadership and in selecting more effective leadership strategies. The adventure consisted of seeing what would happen if I conceptualized a social system (family, group, organization, agency, corporation, school, college community, state, nation or world) as a system of human energy.

All at once a set of questions very different from those typically asked by leaders started coming to mind: What is the sum total of the human energy available in the system? What proportion of this energy is now being used? What might be done to release this energy?

As an adult learner, you know that no one can make you "learn" anything. Learnings have to be "caught" not "taught." The same is true of employees. You can't make an employee do anything, but you can create an environment where they will want to do it. The secret is to unleash the pent up employee drive, desire, and energy.

Leadership That Releases Employee Energy

The author studied the literature and leaders he found to be creative; leaders that could unleash employee energy. He sought the qualities, characteristics, and principles that set the creative leader apart from the controlling leader. Here they are

Creative Leaders
Controlling Leaders
Assume employees are inherently good intentioned, like work, want to stretch. Assume employees dislike work, will avoid it, and aren't to be trusted.
Know that people feel commitment to a decision in proportion to the extent that they feel they have participated in making it. Employees prefer to be directed and avoid responsibility.
Understand that employees tend to live up to other people's expectations of them. Most people need to be coerced, controlled, and threatened in the interest of organizational objectives.
Sense that people perform at a higher level when they are operating on the basis of their unique strengths, talents, interests, and goals. People are interchangeable cogs in the machine.
Stimulate and reward creativity. Punish lack of conformity.
Committed to a process of continuous change. They aspire to create innovative, learning organizations. Maintain the status quo.
Emphasize internal over external motivators. Internal motivators include achievement, fulfilling work, responsibility, advancement, and growth. Rely on hygiene factors like working conditions, salary, and status as motivators.
Encourage people to be self-directing. Encourage people to be puppets.

I want to be one of the Creative Leaders who can unleash the power in my employees. Unfortunately, I spent 21 years in the phone company, so I grew up on a steady diet of controlling leaders. I learned it through osmosis. I catch myself wanting to say: "Okay, dammit. I'll tell you what to do and when I want it delivered." Fortunately, I usually catch myself and try to think of a better way to approach the discussion.

Set Your Intent to Become a Creative Leader

Set your intent to become a creative leader who unleashes the creativity, passion, and energy stored in your employees. Even if you're not a leader, set an intention to act like one and to work in an environment where the principles outlined in this ezine are lived on a daily basis. It will change all of your interactions which will affect all of the people around you. Cut your controlling leader some slack; they don't know any better.

The Adult Learner, Malcolm Knowles, et. al., Gulf Publishing, Houston, 1998.

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