As organizations decentralize, empowerment of individuals becomes evermore crucial. But we cannot empower individuals unless we trust them, and we cannot expect them to run with ideas and risk failure unless they trust us. For example, Frontier Communications has undergone three major acquisitions during the past five years, the most recent of which doubled the size of its workforce.
Its chief executive, Dan McCarthy, shifted the focus of the firm away from the conventional model of productivity and efficiency. “We said that it is okay to get fewer jobs done a day so long as
the customer is delighted with each interaction,” he tells Dialogue. “If that means you find something that requires you to go beyond the call of duty, you are empowered to do that.”
If any organization is famous for its hierarchy, it’s the US military. Yet individual empowerment is at the forefront of its leadership strategy. General Martin Dempsey was the highest-ranking officer in the US armed forces as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until he retired in late 2015. He describes the connection between mission command – a framework for empowerment – and trust.
“Mission command is the way we encourage our leaders at every level to know their men and to empower them to outrun the plan,” he says.
“In my own career, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a senior officer who suggested that I carry a card in my pocket with the words, ‘when is the last time I allowed someone to change my mind about something?’ Mission command is about trust, about white space, about accepting a bit of chaos. It’s more mindset than process.”