Greetings. For the past four years Chinese artist Yang Weidong has been asking many of China's leading thinkers the following question:
"What do you need?"
It is a question intended to gauge the real obstacles to achieving their full potential as artists, writers, economists, historians and other thought leaders. And far and away the top answer was "freedom"–with 95% of those surveyed indicating that some form of freedom was their most essential need. Freedom to think. Freedom to speak and share ideas. Freedom to express themselves in whatever ways they choose.
Yet before we decide to simply confirm our belief that there is very limited freedom of thought and expression in China and other places, we should also be willing to ask Yang Weidong's question in our own companies and organizations. To ask all of our employees and associates:
"What do you need?"
To be more engaged, innovative and successful. To be willing to stay and be way more vested than you are today. To be willing to take risks in order to help us grow and deliver greater value to the customers we have the privilege to serve. My guess is that many of us will receive just about the same answer that Yang Weidong has received in China–assuming our people feel free to say what's on their mind. That they need more "freedom" to explore the new ideas and new approaches to solving problems and creating opportunities they are passionate about. That they need the support and encouragement of leadership if they are to suggest new possibilities in a corporate culture that is not always open to any thinking that runs counter to the prevailing ways of doing things. That they need the time to stretch, imagine, hang out with different types of people and learn new things in order to enhance their insight and push the bounds of what they already know.
Freedom–a vital ingredient in the long-term success of individuals, organizations and nations.
And something we often take for granted but find difficult to provide.
Are you willing to give your people the freedom they need?
We win in business and in life when we give everyone the freedom they need to make a difference and be true to themselves.