After his celebrated solo flight, Charles Lindbergh reflected on his passage into history. He spoke of the calmness with which he departed New York and the freedom he felt in being alone over the stormy North Atlantic:
I haven’t had to keep a crew member acquainted with my plans. My decisions aren’t weighted by responsibility for another’s life. When I learned the night before that the weather was improving, I had no one to consult; I needed only to order the Spirit of St. Louis readied for daybreak. When I was sitting in my cockpit, on the muddy runway, in the tail wind, there was no one to warp my judgment with a ‘Hell, let’s go for it!’ or, ‘It looks pretty bad to me.” I’ve not been enmeshed in petty quarreling and heavy organizational problems. Now, I can go on or turn back according to the unhampered dictates of my mind and senses. According to a saying of my father’s, I’m a full boy-independent-alone.
Lindbergh’s sentiments describe the joys of responsibility. He felt free to do his best knowing that he alone was responsible for the outcome of his mission. I’m self-employed, and I know this joy. Many do not. Many workers don’t know what it’s like to be the sole arbiter of a task, and this is a detriment to the modern American business.
HR pros know that money is an inefficient carrot, and that the stick can’t be counted on either. Employees crave a sense of control over the work they produce-ownership. Business theory teaches managers to give credit where it’s due and slaps on the back for encouragement. Both work to make the staff feel appreciated but don’t give them a sense of control. We can go further than theory. We can train our workers to be responsible for their work-that they alone have responsibility for the final product-and let them take off.
Not all employees will succeed (due maybe to incompetence or lack of desire) and for these souls there is no help-they will need supervision or to be shown the door. The rest, however, will thrive. They will be proud of their work and proud of the company they work for. Sure, sometimes they’ll fail, but they’ll fail because they have too much spirit, not too little. The employees who control their own destiny will be your Charles Lindberghs-pioneers and achievers for whom the sky is the limit.
The best thing we can do is find the right employees, give them real training in self-reliance and set them free to accomplish whatever task we give them.