How many different kinds of permissions are there in organizations?

I started a discussion on LinkedIn questioning the organizational pattern of middle leaders coming up with things, senior leaders approving or not and the organization as a whole thinking that is somehow strategy. Now I am intrigued by the answers to the posts. Most stretched the definition of permission in multiple ways.

Permission from a senior

This is the version that got my cackles up.

It is very common in organizations for work to be decided through a permission process where middle managers (or their hired gun consultants) present in PowerPoint to get approval. (In fact many project processes are an endless string of these interactions). Everyone seems to think this pattern is OK.

Here is what I see:

  • Senior leaders disconnecting. It is much easier to place the responsibility for decisions in someone else’s lap. “Hey you told me, in that presentation, that this was going to work”.
  • Middle managers taking over. This can sometimes be a good thing, especially if senior management HAS checked out. But it often happens because the middle managers tell the leaders just enough to get approval and then they do it their way.
  • Too much democracy. I am all for engagement and participation and ownership at the work level, but there are just some times when ONE person needs to make a decision and be responsible. NO this pattern of up-deciding does not make this happen.

Permission to decide

This was one of the threads of expansion in the discussion. There are many times when we as individuals, and senior leaders in particular, need to give ourselves permission to decide.

I realized today that I have this pattern when I order something online that took research. The latest was a Quiet Cool whole  house fan. I looked at ducted versions, the cost for fixing our broken air conditioner, the difference between energy efficient models and the regular classic line, and I thought and compared. But when it came time to push the buy button I had to sit, think more and stare. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission, because I had done extensive research, to decide that I was able to push the button.

Which gets at the problem with our first form of permission. Leaders do not seem to look into things on their own. If they had a little more of a consultant attitude then they would not be setting bad patterns with all those PowerPoint approvals.

Permission to proceed

Sometimes we just get locked in one place and can’t move forward. Maybe something was a setback and we can’t get over it. Maybe we know people do not agree with an approach, but we are convinced it will work if we could just get started. Maybe we see the possibility of only partial success and the work is starting to seem not worth it.

For all these scenarios we need to learn to give ourselves permission to proceed. Nothing ever turns out perfect. But when nothing starts, nothing ever happens. It is OK, and we need to tell ourselves this once in a while, to take the first step.

Permission to take a chance

This one is like the last except in this case we really do not have measures for whether the work will be a success or not.

Maybe it just feels right. Maybe we have just enough parameters to know this will probably work. Maybe we, or our organization, could just use some momentum and this next action is worth the chance.

Permission passed up,  to decide, to proceed, to take a chance. Lots of permission processes are happening in organizations.

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