Forgiving Permission…

It is one of the perennial questions of leadership – debated by leaders and asked by team members. Permission or forgiveness? Do we seek permission (for an action or decision) or do we ask for forgiveness after said action or decision.

I ask this question of new leaders…I have been asked this question (or a variation thereof) every time I have taken on any new leadership role. And as we reorganise our organisations we are asked asked…we were asked last week.

I am still not sure if there is a right answer…but I am certain there is a good answer (and bad answers). Permission is never a good answer.

A simple answer of permission to such an open (or a meaning of life) question is too simplistic and is too disempowering to anyone asking or listening. And it’s unrealistic – none of us could expect to ask or be asked for permission on every decision or action.

This world did exist once – it is a manifestation of a ‘command and control’ environment that theoretically existed in large organisations of unskilled labour that needed to be told what to do, when and how. This was another era and another industry.

Ours is a highly (and appropriately) regulated industry and as a result there are GLP, GMP and GCP protocols and procedures we have no choice but to be compliant with. But we still have many decisions…opportunities and challenges…that benefit and require independent, informed and innovative timely thoughts and actions.

So no – permission is not a good answer. To give or to hear.

Forgiveness is a better answer. Not a good answer but better. Anytime anyone asks this question my assumption is that they want to feel more empowered. The question normally comes from a place characterised by a feeling of too much control and not enough freedom. Anytime we hear from someone asking for more independence, trust or confidence we should always err on the side of giving forgiveness.

Intrinsically we want organisations who feel empowered and inspired. Us telling – or being told – permission goes against this…so forgiveness is definitely a better answer.

The best answer I have heard is qualified. It is forgiveness…with communication and feedback as the two qualifiers. Sounds obvious I know…and simple…but still it’s the best I have heard.

Forgiveness is the easy part. If we ever ask this question the answer has to start with forgiveness – not it depends, or it’s tough, or I don’t know. Forgiveness. But with a requirement for enhanced communication from the team making the decision to the individual or team offering ‘forgiveness’. Regular, open and detailed communication of what is being decided and done and what progress is being made and measured. Not only is this valuable and important, it is the biggest single action to engender mutual confidence and trust.

And feedback – more specifically being open to feedback (both positive and constructive). If we are seeking to make more decisions ourselves – more important decisions in the work we do – then we have to seek out and learn from feedback. Feedback of praise and encouragement when decision we take lead to progress, success and engagement. But we also advice have to be open to advise on what we should do differently, or could consider more, next time.

I think that is what we tried to say in response to the questions last week.

Time will tell on that one. But most (or best or fastest or most rewarding) success is based on team work and trust, partnership and confidence…

Forgiveness, always forgiveness, but with enhanced communication and open feedback.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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