An executive at a fabric manufacturing company once told this story to Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter.
New to the organization, the executive set out from the start to show that he was open to ideas from his team. Deep down, he suspected the group had some knowledge that it hadn’t shared. So he knew the first step was to create an open culture where employees felt safe enough to speak up. His belief was, “everyone matters.”
It wasn’t long before a production-line worker came to him.
The veteran worker said he had an idea for solving a problem that had long plagued the manufacturer: One important fiber tended to snap during the production process. Added up, those snaps resulted in millions of dollars in production delays.
After listening to the idea, the executive promised he’d try it out. And it worked. Imagine, millions of dollars would be saved every year. Victory!
The executive went back to the worker and said, “That was a great idea! How long have you had that idea?”
“Thirty-two years,” the worker replied.
The previous executive in charge had certainly wielded power—the power of authority that meant he could reward or punish. But he hadn’t possessed “referent power”—or the ability to influence others through charisma and personal acceptance.
As a result, he hadn’t created an atmosphere for employees to flourish. And he’d squandered years’ worth of financial success for the company.
— Adapted from Leading the High-Energy Culture, David Casullo, McGraw-Hill.