If you were to play a game of charades and the clue was “leadership” how would you act that out? I’m imagining that you would stand tall, shake your finger as if you were barking out orders and point to each individual as if you were directing them. Obviously, you would be overacting in order to get your point across in the game, but I wonder sometimes if that is how we as leaders tend to be seen by our employees? We are the ones “in charge”, we give the orders and have ultimate control in the decision making process. But is this true leadership? When it is all said and done, will we be known as one who inspires greatness in our employees, throughout our company and among our community?

I recently heard about a leader on a US Naval submarine that completely changed his management style with incredible results based on this one philosophy: Embedding the capacity for greatness in the people and practices of an organization and decoupling it from the personality of the leader.

This naval captain was originally trained to command a specific submarine. Within a short time, he found himself in command of a nuclear submarine which he had approximately 6 months to learn to captain effectively and safely before heading out to sea. As captain, he was to give the orders and all the others on board were to follow his commands. In fact, there is a long list of orders that the captain is required to give.  So, he found himself in a rather puzzling and unfamiliar predicament. How was he to learn the entire ship in half the time it normally took in order to captain efficiently and effectively?

Interestingly, the first thing he did was vow not to give another order.  Instead he replaced the giving of instructions with INTENT. For example, instead of giving the command to move the submarine, the men would come to the captain and say something to the effect of, it is my intent to move this submarine over here.  If you want your people to think for themselves, give intent – Based on what we are trying to accomplish, what do you think we should do? How do you think we should do it?   It was found to be a  huge psychological shift in ownership. He was no longer the “answer man” as now his people became the ones responsible for the answer. Taking that a step further, he would ask, is it safe? Is it the right thing to do? By asking these questions, the two pillars of confidence and clarity were put into place in the GIVING OF CONTROL.  So now, it was a trickle down effect as all the men on board started thinking like the captain. The change of leadership style took place within 24 hours. It took a few years for the full effect to emerge, however, changes started to take place immediately. A year later the submarine had an inspection. They received the highest grade ever seen, ever. What they discovered was that on any other submarine you have one captain giving the orders and 134 men following. Whereas on this particular submarine there were 135 men thinking, active, passionate, creative, proactive and taking initiative. the implication of this leadership system is trust and follow through. So the men follow through and the leader trusts them but the converse is true. The leader must follow through on his or her promises so the employees trust them.

The solution was found in moving the authority to where the information is.  To create an environment where the people out there making the decisions are making them as if the CEO were standing right behind them. Now, not only are employees making the right decisions, but better ones because they have the information available to make the wisest choice.  In addition, people feel like they matter because they are working in an environment that has been created for thinking.  You don’t have to have the title of CEO/Captain to behave like one.

If you have been in a leadership position for sometime, several thoughts may come to mind as it relates to past initiatives or key buzz words like “empowering your employees.”  Though this may have some overlap, I feel it is beyond just empowering and shows a way of actually implementing a change of thought process that will actually lead to the outcome you desire.    Oftentimes we want a shift in paradigm but don’t necessarily see a starting point let alone an end point in sight to accomplishing it.  If you were or are the captain of your own ship in your company, how would you take this story and overlay it to your specific organization?

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