Empowerment in the US Navy!

USS Santa Fe

You can’t implement a bottom-up concept in a top-down way.

Empowerment is just some wishy-washy claptrap that managers use to carry on exerting their own power, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is – if folks don’t really understand empowerment. But folks who get empowerment know and feel a different version.

I’ve most often read about this different version in public services like health and social care. So reading this take on empowerment in, erm, the US Navy was exhilarating!

There’s lot in there to think and reflect on, but here are a couple of choice snippets:

Saying we need an empowerment program is like saying we need a swimming program. The implication is that swimming isn’t a natural occurring behavior for our people. So, what we are saying when we say we need an empowerment program is that the fundamental way we run our organization is dis-empowering.


If it takes the boss to empower them, the boss can unempower them, and that’s not very powerful.

If it can work in the US Navy, e.g.

The highest performing teams in the military perform in highly decentralized, and empowered ways.

… then I’m pretty sure it can work in health and social care (and public service management more generally).


Why? Follow

A few thoughts about followership – as opposed to leadership – have been kicking around in my mind for the last couple of days.

This post is nothing more than a holding post, with two videos that I’ve found particularly interesting on this topic.

The first: “Leadership lessons from the dancing guy”


The second is Simon Sinek on “It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it”:

#DPULO Young Ambassadors – nominations now open

One of the things the Strengthening DPULOs Programme thinks a lot about is the leadership of DPULOs, both today and in the future. Following many suggestions along the same lines we’ve had over the last few months, I’m delighted to say we’re looking to recruit six young DPULO Ambassadors. This is one part of how we can encourage more people to get involved in DPULOs, particularly thinking about young disabled people who will go on to become the DPULO (and other) leaders of the future.

To build on the success of the Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO) Programme and continue helping DPULOs to become stronger more sustainable organisations, the Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey MP, is keen for DPULOs and young disabled people to work together more closely and forge stronger links.

To take this forward the Minister would like to appoint six Young DPULO Ambassadors (aged 16-24 yrs) to work with DPULOs and our existing Ambassadors.

All of the details you’ll need are in the document below. If you are a young disabled person who might be interested in this, know someone who might be interested, or your organisation’s work involves young disabled people, please pass this information on!

If you have any questions, or completed nominations, these should be sent to: odi.businessperformance@dwp.gsi.gov.uk.

Free disability / #dpulo leadership course from Inclusion London

Inclusion London is running a free pilot leadership course, called: “Understanding leadership in the disability movement”

If you:

  • Are active in the disability movement
  • Want to develop your leadership skills and knowledge and learning from leaders in the movement

… then this could be for you.

Inclusion London’s free pilot leadership course – “Understanding leadership in the disability movement” – is one masterclass a month, starting 20 September 2012 through to February 2013.

It will be held between 12.15pm to 5pm each session, including a networking lunch.

It is for deaf and disabled people who either work for a Deaf or disabled people’s user led organisation or individuals who are active in the movement and wish to expand their leadership skills and knowledge.

Each course will be led by recognised leaders in the disabled people’s movement.

Sessions cover topics such as:

  • Understanding leadership
  • Communicating your campaign message
  • Theory and context of the disabled peoples movement in 21st Century (exploring the social model of disability and the cultural model of deafness)
  • Challenges to the movement

Applicants must live or work in London. To apply, please tell Inclusion London in no more than 300 words:

  1. Why you would like to be on this course.
  2. The work you are doing on Deaf/disability equality issues and how this work would benefit from you attending this course.

Applications are to be sent to Geraldine O’Halloran (geraldine.ohalloran@inclusionlondon.co.uk) at Inclusion London. Closing date: 5pm Monday 3rd September 2012 and successful applicants will be informed after Monday 10th September. Please make sure each application you send has your full name and contact details.

The course will have BSL interpreters. The venue has full disabled access.

Man walks into a column, no.40: Trust

Interesting survey findings released last week by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) suggest that whilst in general employees trust their CEOs ‘more now than at any time over the last three years’ chief execs in the public sector are the least trusted of all. What lies behind this, I wonder?

It’s obviously not an easy time to be in charge of a public sector body, especially a large one. But with the trust differential between the public and private sectors growing it seems that, as the ILM puts it, ‘public sector employees doubt the ability of their CEOs to get the job done given the pressures facing the public sector at the moment’. (You can download the PDF of the full report here.)

It doesn’t seem to be the size of an organisation that explains the gap: national and local government, health and education organisations with over one thousand staff have the three lowest scores in the survey, lower than the private and third sector averages for companies/charities of the same size. And as we all know, conditions in the third sector in particular are just as tough, if not tougher.

What can public sector leaders learn from their counterparts in other sectors? The Institute’s analysis offers a few clues. ‘Leaders in the largest organisations, where staying visible is toughest, must work hardest to build and maintain trust’, we’re told. And: ‘the more distant an employee feels from their boss, the less likely they are to trust them’. In the private sector, bosses are increasing their visibility:

In the wake of the economic downturn, CEOs are taking a more hands-on approach. Rising to the challenge, they are visibly leading their organisations through a period of substantial change and upheaval. Significant increases in CEO ratings on openness and understanding show that employees feel closer to their CEOs than before.

I would think it uncontroversial to say that ‘staying visible’ is more challenging, but correspondingly even more important in public sector organisations, where a naturally more bureaucratic and hierarchical culture places greater barriers between frontline staff/middle management and the top. And of course perhaps you don’t want to be particularly visible as a public sector chief exec if, amidst the shifting sands of a tumultuous policy and economic landscape, you find it hard and/or risky to credibly pin your colours to the mast.

I would guess, though, that it isn’t a choice between ‘visibility plus certainty’ and ‘absence in light of uncertainty’. Staff understand fully that these are difficult times and that firm promises are hard to make. They’re not looking to chief execs for something they can’t be expected to provide. But surely it’s exactly in very uncertain times that the reassuring presence of an organisation’s leader is most crucial.

This kind of ‘reassurance without promises’ requires really courageous leadership, and it’s hard to escape the fact that – as the ILM research indeed suggests – one of the main explanations for lower levels of trust is that the average quality of public sector bosses is lagging (as with any generalisation there are many exceptional exceptions).

In the absence of a solution for this major development challenge, I leave you with this from today’s FT, which suggests that the key to ‘enhancing your personal brand’ and ‘building rapport’ with your colleagues is to be more open about your extracurricular activities. Forget stamp collecting or crosswords, though: the hobbies en vogue at the moment are, apparently, bee-keeping, stand-up comedy, farming and… collecting death masks. On second thoughts…