Permission on Purpose – 10 Ways Leaders Can Say “Yes”


Sometimes I have to work hard at giving myself permission.

I know this might sound kind of silly, but I’ve found a bunch of rules that got programmed into my brain somewhere along the way and anytime I bump up against them these voices in my head start telling me I’m asking for trouble.

While I’d like to think those voices were the result of irritable school teachers or parental lapses, I think many of them were installed for my protection at a point in life when they were needed. The problem is these rules don’t seem to realize that they no longer apply so I have to step in and clear things up. Run a different program.

Sometimes it’s a basic thing like believing I have the right to speak up in a meeting or confront someone who has pushed my boundaries. Other times it’s more personal like difficulty claiming responsibility for something good I accomplish as though I was not being appropriately humble or self-deprecating. Then there are the rules about when it’s ok to be vulnerable or express my emotions.

I suspect my story is not unique.

Some of the most helpful support I’ve received came from people I respect, trust and that I know care about me. Some of these people were leaders and mentors I worked with during my career.

They gave me permission, (encouraged me), to rewrite my mental rulebook so that more of my true self and full potential could be revealed.They provided an alternative message of possibility, freedom and courage. When I was ready, they helped create a safe environment to practice my new-found freedom and then listened and counseled as I shared stories about trying my new wings.

So let’s bring this into the realm of leadership.

It might be tempting to assume people should just figure things out and that they will intuitively understand your intentions. Isn’t this is the age of employee empowerment and engagement?  Unfortunately, this attitude neglects the unspoken, internalized rules that many people bring with them to the workplace.

The mental and emotional rules they’ve created to protect themselves will override any posters on the wall or pronouncements in company meetings. You must reach out to people on a personal level and show them that they can trust you, that this is a safe place, and that they really do have permission to swim in the deep end.

Because it’s in the deep end that all the really good stuff happens.

I’d like to suggest these ten “un-rules” as a good place to start, but I suspect that as the trust and confidence in your relationship grows, so might the list.

  1. Yes, you can connect – This is a caring place. We look out for each other.
  2. Yes, you can act – If you are trying to do the right thing, and make a mistake, we’ve got your back.
  3. Yes, you can try – When you stretch to do something new, we’ll stretch with you and support you.
  4. Yes, you can express – Your ideas matter. Your feelings matter. We’ll listen.
  5. Yes, you can celebrate – When you win, we win. We’re gonna be your biggest cheerleaders.
  6. Yes, you can share – If the going gets rough and you are feeling down, we’ll be there for you.
  7. Yes, you can care – Don’t be ashamed to care about the people here and what happens here. We’re a community.
  8. Yes, you can disagree – Tell us what you think. We discuss things openly here and everyone has a say.
  9. Yes, you can ask – If you need help, ask. We’ve all been there and we want to help you succeed.
  10. Yes, you can go – When you are ready for the next step, the next job, the next challenge, we will encourage you.

I bet you have a story.

Someone who came along and pushed you to jump off the high dive or sing a solo in the school play. Someone who wanted to hear what you had to say, and when you said it, made you feel like you were brilliant. Now be that person for someone else.

Let them know they have room to be more, do more and achieve more and that you’ll be there, ready to help and working to create an environment for them to learn and grow.  Show them you mean it by your actions, your example, how you treat people around them. Soon they will be ready to step out and give it a try. When they do, WOW! Leadership at its best.

Give yourself permission to be the person who opens the door.

That’s what leaders do.





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