Permission in Leadership

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Much of successful leadership is about granting permission.

Permission is a strategy.  In business, we create permissions for our customers and our employees.  Let’s look at some familiar products, and the permission they convey:

  1. Fast food: Permission to throw away the dishes.
  2. Banking: Permission to have the new car now.
  3. Fine dining: Permission to indulge.
  4. Alcohol: Permission to socialize; also, to relieve stress without addressing the root cause.

Consider your business.  Strategically, what permissions are you intending to convey to your customers?  How well are you doing?  How well are your activities aligned in supporting that permission?  Do you think your customers know what permissions they are granted?  What is the business doing that is in the way of supporting that permission?  How is the business sending mixed messages about permissions?

Permission defines your culture.  When was the last time you contemplated how your organization’s culture grants permission to your customers and your employees?  Where does it take permission away?  As any cultural aspect of a business, permission is led in an active way, not a passive way.  For example, just saying that people are empowered does not a culture make.  Culture, overall, is the accumulation of permissions, and it is up to leaders to overtly live a culture of clear permissions with those we lead.  People will watch not just the big cues for their perception of permission, but the accumulation of countless small cues.

There are other things that communicate permission:  the formality of an office space, the dress code, the reaction when someone brings in their newborn daughter to work, the arrangement and accouterments of your store or office, how a leader reacts to disappointment.

Consider yourself and the permissions you grant yourself.  What permission do you deny yourself?  For example, do you give yourself permission to be “big”, to take up space, to take calculated risks, to be seen and heard?  Do you give yourself the permission to be corrected with better information?  Do you give yourself the permission to work through problems at the pace that best suits you?  Do you give yourself permission to be quiet while another person is speaking?  Do you give yourself permission to recognize mistakes and, in effect, giving yourself permission to change from the old you into a new you?  Do you give yourself permission to grieve, in order to move forward from the past?  A practice in permission: What is one new permission you can grant to yourself or another this week, and how will you demonstrate it?