I would like to propose a workplace version of the Miranda Warning. You’re probably familiar with it, but if not, it’s the warning given by police officers in the United States to criminal suspects before they take them into custody and question them. The Miranda Warning (aka, Miranda Rights) goes like this:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
My workplace version of the Miranda Warning is to protect employees’ rights to make their own decisions and to remind over-controlling leaders to back off, quit grabbing control (because you think your way is the best and only way), and let people choose their own course of action. Here’s my workplace Miranda Warning that a boss should be required to give an employee before swooping in to take control:
“You have the right to remain stupid. Anything you say or do can and will have natural consequences involved for which you will have to assume full responsibility. You have the right to seek my advice prior to making this decision but you are in control of your own choices. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
I developed this workplace Miranda Warning after reading Tim Sanford’s book, Losing Control & Liking It. A few weeks ago I wrote an article based on Sanford’s approach to handling issues of control in relationships, the essence of which is learning to better understand who is truly in control of a situation and letting that person take responsibility for it, rather than engaging in a struggle for power and control.
Empowering your employees means letting go of control. You’ve hired them to do a job so they should have the appropriate amount of autonomy and control in performing their work within specified boundaries. Letting go of control means trusting your people to make the right decisions, yet understanding that ultimately the choice is up to them.
Sanford offers three principles for leaders to remember when giving up control to employees. These principles serve as a self-regulating mechanism for all of us when we’re faced with making decisions:
1. You live and die by your own choices. There are many people and circumstances that influence us on a daily basis, and many of those things are out of our control. Yet we have control over how we choose to respond to those situations. When my kids were younger I would always get a chuckle when they would say “You make me so mad!” which invariably was in response to me not letting them do something they wanted to. The truth is that I didn’t make them mad, they chose to respond in an angry fashion when they didn’t get their way. We all have the ability to choose healthy, life-affirming choices, or negative, destructive choices.
2. You can choose smart or stupid. Since we live and die by our own choices, we have to decide whether we want to choose “smart” or choose “stupid.” Sometimes the choices are easy – legal vs. illegal, moral vs. immoral – but sometimes choices come in shades of gray. It’s these gray areas where leaders often get uncomfortable and choose to step in, take control from the employee, and make the decision themselves. That only serves to demoralize employees, create resentment towards the boss, and bottleneck every important decision with one person. Leaders have to learn to trust principle number 3.
3. There’s always somebody or something whose job it is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid. Whether you call it karma, cause and effect, reap what you sow, or just natural consequences, if we choose “stupid” there is eventually going to be a cost that has to be paid. Maybe the cost is an upset customer, a disappointed colleague, or a missed deadline. Those are difficult situations, but sometimes that is what’s needed for someone to fully grasp and learn from their mistakes. Leaders that habitually jump in to rescue employees to prevent or minimize mistakes can actually be creating a co-dependent relationship or excusing poor performance. Sometimes it’s best to let people experience the full consequence of their actions.
It can be scary giving up control, especially for a leader. We have a preconceived notion that we’re always supposed to be in control, but the reality is that there is very little that is directly under our complete power and control. That’s why we have teams. We need the diverse skills of many different people to complement each other and produce something better and greater than anything we could do alone. But that means letting go of control and doing our best to help people choose “smart” over “stupid.”