Helen Green

A Matter of Choice

The past may be a far country but sometimes it can teach us lessons which resonate strongly in our world today. Talking with a friend recently they were discussing a manager whom they encountered early in their career. On first acquaintance the manager informed them that it was their job to do exactly what he said and that he would not condone any requests for clarification or discussion. This was followed up by the realisation that the office closed when the manager was ready and if that meant that everyone sat round on unpaid overtime whilst he went out to do his wife’s shopping then everyone sat around, regardless of whether this affected their plans or not.

The immediate effect of this management style was an office ruled by fear where no initiative was taken and work was performed to the letter and not an inch beyond with more of an eye to the manager’s reaction than anything else. The long term effect was a determination to treat future team members as intelligent individuals who had their own strengths and weaknesses and who would perform best when given the freedom to do so.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities – J.K.Rowling

There is a time to manage and there is a time to lead and the leaders who get extraordinary things done understand that most employees do their best work when they are given the freedom to choose how to do it. Yes the required outcome needs to be clearly defined but with the freedom to define how the task is accomplished comes higher levels of interest, excitement and confidence.

In our first example a dictatorial style lead to sapped energies, low confidence levels and barely adequate work levels; conversely being given the freedom to choose and self-manage leads to a mobilisation of energies and a determination to complete the task above and beyond the call of duty. In effect when leaders provide choice, people take responsibility for their performance and results. In challenging situations they are prepared to ‘go first’; they anticipate problems and seek out solutions; they don’t shy away from making the tough calls.

Of course there are times when the task has to be more tightly prescribed and the leader may need to dictate more of the what, when and how. Even in those situations the extraordinary leader is able to draw out the best from employees, showing them the choices which they still have and engendering a positive mental approach to the task ahead. We always have a choice in how we interpret a situation and can choose to be positive or negative. An exceptional leader can help us to make the right choice even when we may be blind to the options.

Question 24 of the Leadership Practices Inventory asks us to consider how frequently we ‘give people a great deal of freedom and choice in deciding how to do their work?

  • How can you provide a greater sense of freedom and choice to other people you work with? What would be the expected impact of doing this?
  • What mind-set will you need to adopt in order to provide more freedom and choice to people in how they go about their work?

Whilst we are considering what we do to give our people that sense of freedom and choice we will revert back to the past and to a lesson which we learnt from a song which was first recorded in 1939.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. And that’s what gets results.