When I started my corporate career, I worked for a global company led by the hard-charging CEO, Percy Barnevik.
He believed in pushing decision-making to the lowest level. His corporate mantra was, “think global, act local.” He empowered his local managers to take charge and make things happen.
As a young general manager of a manufacturing business in that company, I was thankful to be working for a CEO who understood the power of delegating authority. I had the autonomy to run my business as I saw fit so long as I got results.
I was not burdened with extraneous paperwork or monthly reporting. Instead, Barnevik kept his headquarters small and focused his senior management team on ensuring local managers had everything they needed to succeed.
As a result, we were free to do what was needed locally to get the best results – and the results were outstanding. We moved fast and, every year, we grew sales and profits.
We also had a lot of fun doing it.
In many ways, I felt like I was running my own business – except I had a large corporation backing me up. It was the most fun I ever had working as a leader in a global company.
Unfortunately, good things never last.
Barnevik eventually retired, and his replacements believed that the company had too many maverick business leaders around the world.
They felt the company needed to have a more uniform approach, so they hired more and more people on staff to coordinate this standardization. Eventually, what was once a small team at headquarters focused on supporting local businesses, became an army of bureaucrats working to control every aspect of the company.
Over the years, the company eventually stripped most of the authority from local business managers. Instead, most decisions went through the bureaucrats.
As a result of the weight of this bureaucracy, decision-making slowed down, and our growth stalled as well.Under the weight of bureaucracy, decision-making slows down, and growth stalls as well. Click To Tweet
Faceless bureaucrats without any responsibility for the financial performance of local businesses were now in charge. They had all the authority and no accountability. The company still held local managers responsible for the financial results, but they had little power to implement the ideas to make it happen.
What was once fun became a futile battle of rules and red tape.
Frustrated, I eventually moved to another global business only to discover that the situation was even worse. There, local managers had no authority.
Frustration and apathy sat like a dark cloud over employees. Most local managers had given up trying to make things better. The faceless bureaucrats were in charge, and local managers could do nothing to change the situation. Most managers felt like they were strapped into a car with no steering wheel – they had no control.
It was the most depressing place I had ever worked.
That experience caused me to leave corporate life to start my own business.
As an entrepreneur, I once again attained the right balance of authority and responsibility. I had complete control of my business, made quick decisions, and my sales multiplied.
I also learned to have fun again.
How does this relate to your leadership journey?
It should be a reminder of your role as a leader. It’s not your job to create a bureaucracy to control every aspect of your employees’ lives. Your job is to empower your people to take action to accomplish the goals of the company.A leader's job is to empower people to take action to accomplish the goals of the company. Click To Tweet
People enjoy freedom, and they will thrive when not faced with the crushing weight of bureaucratic processes.
Our job as leaders is to communicate the goal, establish the ground rules, and ensure our people have everything they need to succeed.
When you remove the weight of bureaucracy, your team will move faster, resulting in quicker results.
When faced with the decision to add layers of red tape, ask yourself, what would Percy do?
In my bestselling leadership book, All in the Same Boat, I tell more stories of what it was like working for a leader like Percy Barnevik.
[Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash]