Treat middle management like strawberries – Empowerment

Part 1 of this series of posts on leadership development illustrated how more and more of today's leaders are neglecting to develop their next tier of managers and thus failing in one of their primary duties to their organization. Part 2 touched on how we can avoid this problem altogether: in short, treat that next tier of managers like strawberries, not mushrooms.

Now we look at the second of a few examples for how we can treat middle management like strawberries.


Last time we discussed Sam Walton and his Ten Rules For Business Success. One rule not mentioned, because it didn't apply to that post's theme of transparency, was #10: Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. However, it's very applicable to today's theme of empowerment.

After General Motors fell victim to the global financial crisis last year, its new CEO, Fritz Henderson, was tasked with quickly turning around the automotive giant.

Henderson saw that the organization's highly bureaucratic structure had allowed it to become sluggish, complacent and out of touch with the market. So he immediately devised a new company culture, with four key pillars at its foundation: risk-taking, accountability, speed and customer/product focus. These pillars – and especially the first three – directly addressed the very bureaucracy that had brought the organization to its knees. And they did so by empowering GM's employees.

At all levels, managers are now encouraged to make decisions in their area of expertise. No approvals, no big meetings, no deliberations required. Just do it.

Maverick managers within the company who know how to game whatever remnants of bureaucracy remain are actually being encouraged! Whatever you need to do to get the job done, however you need to get the job done, just do it.

Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. By abandoning the bureaucracy and embracing a new set of leadership skills, GM is taking a calculated risk that it can regain its stature by empowering management.

Do you think this new culture of empowerment will help GM turn around?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Posted: 12/1/2009 11:21:28 AM by Andy Klein | with 0 comments
Filed under: empowerment, leadership, management, managers
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