Bankable leadership: Engineer ownership and leave the dictatorship to Napoleon

The following is the fourth excerpt from New York Times best-selling author and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich’s new book Bankable Leadership.  

Engineering ownership is the second approach to treating your people like adults. When you do this successfully, you can give up a certain level of control to your team members, making them—and your customers—happier in the process.

Herb Kelleher, longtime Southwest Airlines CEO and Bankable Leader extraordinaire once said, “If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don’t need control.” Let’s illustrate the contrast between control and participation with two recent, but distinctly different, customer service phone calls—both of which I had within hours of each other.

The first was with an airline that had failed to get me to my destination on a business trip (they decided to land in Albany instead of New York City, which is only off by about 150 miles!). I was interested in a credit for my trouble. I spoke to a customer service representative, who told me about all the things she wasn’t authorized to do, one of which was issuing a credit. I said, “Fine. Put me through to your supervisor.” I thought her supervisor would be able to help, but we just repeated the kabuki theater performance I’d been through with her employee.

She too explained all the things she wasn’t able to do. “Fine,” I said. “Put me through to your supervisor.” After five minutes with the boss’s boss, we’d had the exact same conversation. I hung up in disgust.

A few hours later, I called the customer service department of the flash bargain

Web site Rue La La. “How can I help you?” the customer service representative chirped. I explained that an item I ordered had been sent in the wrong size, but that it was a final sale item and therefore not returnable. After I pleaded my case, she said, “Sure thing, ma’am. I would be happy to fully refund your purchase.”

I almost fell off my chair. “We don’t normally do this,” she said, “but I can appreciate that this was our error. We want you to be happy with your experience.”

Bingo! This was an empowered employee who’d been trusted to make the right decision. In one conversation, I went from someone who wasn’t sure

I’d shop on this website again to being so loyal that they probably should start garnishing my wages!

Overly controlling organizations typically underperform compared to organizations that give their employees freedom to make the right choice. According to leadership guru James O’Toole, when hierarchical barriers to decision making are in place, as was the case with the airline, product and service quality goes down. High-control organizations hold on to mediocre employees while the best and brightest flee to organizations that give them more autonomy and respect. If you take high-control practices to the extreme, you have a full-on dictatorship; all power and decision making is held at the top of the organization.

However, when employees are given power, trusted, and treated like adults, amazing things happen. Here’s an example. After a long day and a long flight, a man named Peter Shankman decided to jokingly tweet “Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at Newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”.  He landed to find a tuxedo-wearing Morton’s employee waiting for him with a full steak dinner in hand. How much would you bet that Peter Shankman will be a customer for life?

Look for more excerpts from Bankable Leadership on CDN in the coming weeks.

Dr. Tasha Eurich is a proud leadership geek, executive coach, speaker, and author, Dr. Eurich is the author of the new book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both.  She also helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.  Dr. Eurich passionately pairs her scientific grounding in human behavior with a practical approach to solving some of today’s most common leadership challenges. Her decade-long career has spanned roles as an external consultant and a direct report to both CEOs and human resources executives. The majority of Dr. Eurich’s work has been with executives in large Fortune 500 organizations, including CH2M HILL, Xcel Energy, Western Union, IHS, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Newmont Mining, Centura Health, CoBiz Financial, the City of Cincinnati, and HCA.

With an M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University and B.A.s in Theater and Psychology from Middlebury College, she serves on the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. She has served as an adjunct faculty member in Colorado State University’s Psychology and Business Schools. She is also a popular guest speaker at the University of Denver and Colorado State University’s Executive MBA programs.

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