What Step Are You On?

After you figure out what step you operate on, then figure out if you can’t move up to the top step. More at: www.LeeCockerell.com

The Five Steps in the “Levels of Freedom!”

Think about this concept of five levels of freedom for a leader, and ask yourself where you operate. Perhaps by doing this analysis, you will be able to answer the question:  What more should I be doing to make a difference in my role in my organization and in my personal life?

Think of the “Levels of Freedom” as a staircase with the lowest level of freedom being the bottom step. 

The first step is:  Wait Until You Are Told.  This person never takes any initiative and never has any new ideas.  He or she just kind of shows up and waits to be told what to do.  This person would be rated as performing below expectations.

The second stair step is:  Ask What to Do.  This person does not take any initiative either; but at least, he or she comes to you and asks what you would like for him or her to do.  These individuals usually then do it, but it is never their idea.  They would probably be rated as below expectations as well, since nothing can get done by them unless someone tells them what to do.

The third step is:  Maintain the Basic Expectations of the Leader.  Some people think this is a safe place to be; so if their leader expects them to stay until 5 p.m., that is exactly what they do, and not one minute longer.  If they are supposed to be in at 8 a.m., they get there exactly at 8 a.m. and not a minute sooner.   If their leader expects them to talk to one employee a day about his or her future and how the employee is doing, that is what they do and not one employee more.  You get the point!  We know these leaders are just very average, and they just do what they have to do to keep their jobs; and then they wonder why they are not getting ahead.

Passion and drive are not words they would relate to.  We rate these people as meets expectations; we don’t quite know what to do with them.  They leave the place pretty much the way they found it or even a little worse when they move on, and no one ever remembers them for much.  In fact, people can’t even remember their names later in life because they made little or no difference to any operation, any customer or any employees life.

The fourth step is:  Ask for Approval, and Then Act.   Now we are getting somewhere.  These are the people who have good ideas and want to make a difference; and they put their plan together and go see their leader and get approval to do it—and then they go and get it done.  They like the confidence of having the leader’s approval before they get started, and we would rate these people as exceeds expectations.  These are the people who are usually thinking about better ways to run the business, and they love continuous improvement.  They are usually well thought of by their fellow employees as people who make a difference.

The last and highest “Level of Freedom” on the staircase is:  Act on Your Own, and Keep Your Leader Informed.   The leaders who do this all of the time sometimes get into trouble because they do things that they do not have the authority to do.  They make mistakes; and when they make mistakes, they are big ones that hurt people and our Company.

So then you ask, “What is the highest level of freedom for a leader, and how can a leader be the most effective?  The answer is this . . . the leader who looks at situations and projects and uses good judgment and knows that there are times to ask for approval, and then act, and there are times to act on your own and keep the leader informed.  An example if you were going to terminate someone, you would get your leaders approval and the approval of Human Resources and then act.  If you were going to coach and counsel someone about his or her poor performance, you just do it; and then keep your leader informed.

Great Leaders know when to do both Levels 4 and 5; and they work back and forth between those two levels to get the job done.  They never go below Level 4.  Even saying the words “maintain basic expectations of the Leader” makes them feel ill.   Maintaining is not moving forward; and when you are not moving forward, you are standing still or going back-wards.  The big question for me, of course, is “Why would your leader need you if you were just maintaining things in your organization?”  I think I am pretty sure of the answer to that question; and that is why I try to stay on the top steps of this staircase.  In this case, it is much safer to be on the higher steps than on the ground floor.  Maybe this is not the case on real steps—but on real steps, there is a handrail.   . . . Lee

Level 5:  Act on Your Own, and Keep the Leader Informed
Level 4:  Ask for Approval, and Then Act
Level 3:  Maintain the Basic Expectations of the Leader
Level 2:  Ask What to Do
Level 1:  Wait Until You Are Told

PS:  By the way, there are hundreds of things you can do on your own in your operations without approval.  Some examples are to put in a great safety program, hold world-class pre-shift meetings and, walk your operation, coach and counsel and help people think about their careers, improve the service in your operation, improve checklists and make sure they are used without fail, ensure engagement is happening between your employees and your customers, and always be thinking of new ways to surprise and delight your customers.  So, go for the top stairs where the most freedom is for you to be great and to make a difference.   . . . Lee


PS: Have a great Labor Day weekend everyone

1 Comment
  1. As always this fits perfectly with the military way. Too often we have people that want to be “yes men” so that they do not risk a bad annual report. They want to say what their boss wants to hear. I tell my staff that is NOT what I want – I want them to think on their own. I want to be informed BUT my job is to develop the USAF leaders of tomorrow – my replacements – and that requires them to have the freedom to step up!

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