Freedom is a powerful word. Quite possibly, it’s the most powerful word in any language because of what it represents. But what does freedom mean in the business world? In my last blog, I talked about letting go of control, and giving employees the freedom to do what they were hired to do. We hear a lot about empowering employees, giving them the right to make choices…giving them freedom. Implicit in the act of giving an employee freedom is the “giving” act.
This made me wonder: what makes giving real freedom to an employee so hard?
I’ve had the privilege of leading people for a long time. My first assignment as a leader was when I was 23 years old. I was leading a group of grizzly veterans – all 25 years older than me – who were part of a maintenance team in a chemical plant. I think I was “in charge” for about 3-4 days while my boss was away. Truth be told, I couldn’t fail…not because the stakes were too high or because failure wasn’t an option. Rather, I couldn’t fail because I was surrounded by amazing people. Needless to say, it was a humbling and educational experience!
In the end, I did a pretty decent job, primarily as a result of one critical decision I made: I asked for help.
At the time, my boss was a 6-foot-something Texan who chewed tobacco constantly and yelled equally as often. I still remember the smell of his tobacco, which was hard to miss because he gave me more than one close-quarters, face-to-face “development sessions.” His name was Ralph.
The morning Ralph left me in charge, he said to me, “Just ask for help.” In retrospect, it was one of the most powerful management lessons I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of leading people. In my opinion, the decision to ask for help is the purest act of giving freedom. It empowers people in a way that can’t be matched. It hands over responsibility while showing vulnerability and admitting you aren’t perfect. Many, if not most, are eager to help because it makes them feel important to the outcome. After all, who wants to feel they can’t help or be a part of the solution?
Don’t get me wrong, there have certainly been times when I asked for help and did not receive it. But regardless, I’ll keep asking for it. And I’ll keep giving freedom because I know I need help to succeed.
Let me know what you think…