The Five Powers of Permission
Old styles of leadership are about giving permission to supplicants. Followers seek permission. It’s an “I/you” rather than “we” dynamic. Leaders have power while followers ask.
I/you leadership is disengaging and disempowering.
Leaders ask permission:
Successful leaders do more than give permission, they get it. Permission answers the question, “Is it ok with you if … ?”
Five Powers of Permission:
- “May I …” builds trust.
- “Would it be ok if …” shares power.
- “Do you mind if …” equalizes social status.
- “Could we discuss…” prevents stagnation. Permission moves the agenda forward when topics are awkward.
- “Is it ok with you, if…” engages.
Permission opens doors, protects relationships, and prevents stagnation.
Ask permission to:
- Bring up uncomfortable topics. Set a date for the conversation.
- Explore progress.
- Correct. “May I …”
- Give feedback.
- Say what you see. “Is it ok if I share something I see …”
Four responses to NO:
When permission isn’t granted? Ask:
- How business-critical is the topic?
- Is there a deeper issue to address?
- Can you let it go?
- Must you address it, regardless?
When topics are mission critical, say, “We need to talk about this soon.”
Just a courtesy:
Isn’t asking permission just social courtesy? Yes, sometimes it is. But, social courtesies smooth and protect. Perhaps you prefer to be discourteous and abrasive?
Four reasons leaders don’t ask permission:
- Arrogance. It’s too humbling to ask and too easy to tell.
- Fear of seeming weak.
- Fear of losing power.
- Authoritarian rather than relational leadership styles.
What does permission-leadership look like in your world?
What are the pros and cons of permission-leadership?
Great post! I think many leaders fall into the trap of equating asking with powerlessness. They don’t see the connection between open discussion and influence. Another effective discussion starter- “I have an observation to share with you. Is now a good time to do that?”
Jennifer, I like the way you craft your sentences. It feels both proactive and yet shares power. Bingo!
I like your reference to fear as to reasons why leaders don’t ask permission. It’s a reminder that when we are dealing with an authoritative, old-style leader, we may achieve better results if we . ask them for guidance on a new thought or idea, recognize their experience and knowledge or in some other way, help alleviate the fear. In the end, we can’t change them, but if we change how we communicate with them, we may still achieve the results we are looking for.
I see loads of experience and insight in your comment. Some of us learned these skills the hard way.
The powers of permission create relationship, opens door and provide social equity. While it has great advantage, it has disadvantages too. Though you have addressed it, I would like to add some more dimensions to it. When leader always want to hold power, people start making distance and leader start losing respect. As long as his permission is required, people will show respect superficially but sooner he gets out of power, nobody will even recognize him. So,leaders should know the dark side of holding power.
I appreciate your points when leaders do no ask permission. The most important is ” the feeling of seeming weak”. This practices still active at workplace. And this is perhaps the root cause of instilling arrogance and powerlessness. So, when morally weak people hold position, they weaken everything except their position. They do anything and everything to remain in power. And such leaders always expect people to surround them, sycophant them, and make plot to protect their position. And the funny thing is that the people who surround them are the most secured ones and get all the privilege and benefits. This applies to all the organization where leader is interested to safeguard his position because he is morally weak.
Thank you Ajay. Your second paragraph describes conditions that are far too common in organizations.
Those on the outside either drift or leave. It’s discouraging to see the “IN” group get privileges for no better reason than they are the “IN” group.
Fear permeates organizations that are driven by leaders whose main concern is protecting their position.
As always, thank you for sharing your insights.
I like this post. I think many leaders are more prone to given direction as oppossed to stopping and asking for it. So, I can see how this would engage conversation which someone who is giving resist ance.
Directive leadership is tempting because it’s often quicker in the short-term.
Lets also remember that directive leadership is appropriate under certain conditions. It’s not evil. It’s applied too frequently.
I believe asking for permission from others creates a sense of ownership on followers. I have observed my team who cared less about the company becomes great advocates and innovators of problem solving.
I make sure the team knows and understands that I will be directive when neccessary. I now hear the team talking among themselves, ” We need to find out what is important to Kel too, so that we can suprise her”.
I believe mostly this leadership concept creates a sense of community where the team becomes aware of others needs as they actively support each other. I call it consideration!
KaChing! Thanks Kel! I appreciate you adding your story.
Great post! I believe that even through a has the position of “being in Charge” when he asks permission he creates an atmosphere of inclusion. In other words your input is valuable and adds to the accomplishment of our vision. Thus the follower’s enthusiasm grows more passionate for the cause whatever that may be.
correction: even through a leader
Great article! And as someone who teaches influencing skills to leaders in organizations, I’d like to add one other reason I haven’t read here, yet, as to why leaders do not use permission based language to influence those they lead.
Very simply, they don’t know how. I truly believe, based on training hundreds in influencing communication skills to use personal power vs. authoritarian power, that no one has ever taught them this is an option, no how to do it so that they don’t come across as weak. I’ve coached leaders that try to communicate with a less authoritarian and softer approach and they struggle to get the results they need and so they leap to the other end when they feel they are taken advantage of and know no other way.
Leadership is like parenting, in many ways. Most of us learn parenting from how we experienced it as we grew up under our parents. Likewise, we learn leadership from those who led us earlier in our careers and few of us had great role models and even if we did, often we weren’t paying attention to what they were doing. So, we are all left to figure it out on our own in the early stages of stepping into a leadership role.
In my leadership training I tell my clients leaders need more humility and need to be humble leaders which will open the door to communicating as you suggest.
There’s also the helpful and presumptuous, “Would it be Ok if we can talk about what it will look like when you succeed at x?” Or, “Would it be useful if you and I talked about where you are already doing well on this difficult task?”
The importance of humility and respect can’t be underestimated, but it’s also important for managers to be direct when an employee really has no choice.
In your example of following up a rejection with “We need to talk about this soon.” It feels disingenuous to have asked for permission to discuss something when the conversation was actually mandatory.
It would be more honest, yet still respectful, to say, “We need to discuss XYZ. Could we do that this afternoon?” You still give the courtesy of asking for permission, but firmly enough that if the answer is “no”, you can follow up with, “No problem. I’ll set something up for later this week.”
Excellent post! Very much in line with what I wrote in my last post: http://jennyebermann.com/2012/11/23/about-the-power-of-we-leading-with-compassion/
Unfortunately, many people are still writing things like: ‘You have to’ and ‘This is mandatory, you don’t have a choice’. Not very empowering and not motivating either!
I have always thought that a leader should memorize the phrase “May I count on you to …..” I think that is bidirectional permission…You have permission to ask and they have permission to commit…