The Top Two Stairs Is Where You Want To Be

Where are you on the staircase?

I wrote this article back in February 2001. It is an important concept that can help YOU think about how YOU can step up and make a difference. 

I asked a few people why they had not read it, and they said they did not have time.  I reminded them that there are 10,080 minutes in a week.  If YOU don’t have time to develop yourself, then YOU probably will not have time to get ahead in your life.  So read this, and think about how YOU can operate at Levels 4 and 5, since this is where the freedom is.   . . . Lee



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 job 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 bottom 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 unsatisfactory as well, since nothing can get done by them unless someone tells them what to do– like a 3-year-old child.

The third step is:  Maintain the Basic Expectations of the Leader.  Some people think this is a safe place to be; so if the 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 boss expects them to talk to one employee  a day about his or her future and how the employee is perfoming, that is what they do and not one employee more.  You get the point!  We know these managers are just 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 average. 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 fellow employee

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 the 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.  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 thier 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 judgement 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 informedAn example for me would be if I were going to terminate someone, I would get discuss it with my boss, HR and legal to get approval and then act.   If I were going to coach and counsel someone about his or her poor performance, I would do it; and then keep my boss informed when we meet from time to time.

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 four.  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 backwards.  The big question for me, of course, is “Why would my boss need me if I were just maintaining things.  I think I am pretty sure of the answer to my own 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 to be 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 train all of your employees, put in a great safety program, hold world-class pre-shift meetings, 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, and always be thinking of new ways to surprise and delight your customers. . . and on and on and on.  So, go for the top stairs where the most freedom is for you to be great and to make a difference.   . . . Lee 

1 Comment
  1. what a great message I am sharing with our Team and some family members. This should be in front of our leader’s as a resource when they are preparing any performance reviews.

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