Obstruction Permits


Do you have an obstruction permit? Do you have a permit to get in the way, block the normal flow of progress, cause others to take a detour, and delay the completion of work? No, I’m sure you don’t. Then ask yourself, “Why is that I obstruct my team’s progress?” “Why do I get in their way, causing them to take detours, and delay getting the job done?” If you’re thinking, “But I don’t obstruct them!” I suggest you sit down with one of your trusted employees and ask, “Honestly, do I get in your way sometimes? Do I create any barriers to you getting your job done?”

If that person feels safe in answering your question, chances are they will say, “Truthfully, sometimes you do.”

Effective leaders should not create obstructions. In fact they should do just the opposite. They should clear a path, show the way to success, provide resources for the journey, and help refuel them along the way. It’s not unusual, though, for leaders to be an obstruction. Why?

One of the hallmark characteristics of effective leadership is the ability to see the path and to know how to successfully navigate it, or at least figure it out along the way. Frankly, sometimes it is easier and more expedient to just do it on your own. I understand that, I really do. However, it is not sustainable.

When you are out on the path forging ahead on your own, you might actually be creating more trouble. When you are blazing the trail, you are looking forward. You are taking the hits and solving the problems, but you have no idea what is going on behind you. You do not know what problems your followers are encountering. You can’t see how far back on the trail they are. You don’t know what obstacles they may be encountering as a result of your efforts.

When you finally get to your “destination,” you’re going to need your team, but how far behind you are they? And how bruised and bloodied are they from the journey?

Putting the metaphor of a journey aside, what does it really look like for you to be an obstruction to your followers? Here are some of the things that leaders do when they think they hold an obstruction permit:

  • Telling people how to get the job done.
  • Taking over a project that isn’t going so well.
  • Talking more than listening.
  • Not allowing healthy conflict to exist.
  • Squelching creative ideas.
  • Discouraging questions.
  • Trying to monitor all conversations and information flows.
  • …and many more.

All of these issues can be summed up in one word: control.

That’s it. Ultimately, the issue is a lack of trust (for self as well as others), but it is manifested in the need to control.

I know that is an ugly word. I don’t like it either, because I’m guilty. You probably are too, to at least some degree. Most leaders struggle with the idea of releasing control. However, if you think of it as getting in the way of others doing their work, or being an obstruction, it might be easier for you to detect when you are waiving your fake obstruction permit around. If you want someone to hold you accountable, give them permission to tell you, “When you sense I am trying to exert too much control, just tell me my obstruction permit has expired.”

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Ruud Onos. Available at Flickr.com.

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