#110: 8 Steps to Create Your Barrier Busting Enabled Organization

An executive is a coach when he or she goes beyond “telling” and actually demonstrates a skill. In basketball, a player often has better skill sets than the coach, but the coach can demonstrate how to improve. It is the same in business. A manager may not be the best salesperson, but they can show someone how to improve.

Nehemiah Enabler, Organization

But wouldn’t it be great if the manager didn’t have the burden of coaching the entire organization? The secret is to become an “enabler.” An enabler creates an army of employees who teach and coach each other.

If you create an environment where each individual takes charge of not only their own skill improvement but also teaches and coaches others then you are an enabler.

Nehemiah the Enabler

The one thing business does not need is another empty program promising miraculous results. But becoming an executive enabler and creating an enabled organization is truly worth the effort. One great example of the power of enabling is found in the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

Ezra led a remnant of people back to Jerusalem and they began rebuilding the city. But twelve years later they had still not rebuilt the city walls, and the people were under constant threat from marauders. Nehemiah heard about the condition of Jerusalem and left his comfy job working for King Artaxerxes to take over the Jerusalem project. Under his leadership, the city walls were rebuilt in only 52 days.

Nehemiah was extremely effective because he was a man of God, an outstanding leader, a good supervisor, and an enabler. Here are some of the characteristics of an enabler that Nehemiah exhibited:

Remove Barriers

Nehemiah recognized that change is difficult and that men could find many excuses not to finish the work. So before he ever left for Jerusalem he developed a plan. He thought about the work that needed to be done, and the materials required to complete the work.

Once the basic plan was in place and building materials secured, Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and spent three days surveying the city. He personally rode around the entire city to understand firsthand the work to be done. Then and only then did he assemble the city fathers for a heart-to-heart chat. He discussed his vision for Jerusalem; “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Neh. 2:17).

The city fathers were so excited about the plan that they immediately agreed to begin rebuilding the city walls.

Empower the Workers

Nehemiah was faced with an enormous project. He did not have the luxury of having a full-time staff of trained wall builders and gate hangers at his disposal. He didn’t have an army that he could commandeer. Nor did he have thousands of slave laborers. Nehemiah had to get the job of building the city walls, and hanging the city gates done with the ordinary citizens who lived there.

He began by enlisting everyone in the city to become involved in the building project. He had goldsmiths, priests, perfume makers, guards, and merchants among the people working on the walls. Women worked next to men. Community leaders worked alongside servants.

Each person was given a specific job; a section of wall, or a specific gate to work on, and they were left to get the job done on their own.

Encourage Risk Taking

Any truly important result carries with it some element of risk. In rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem the people faced opposition from several neighboring cities who conspired to stop the rebuilding.

When Nehemiah found out about the threats he posted guards but kept the people working; “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, ‘Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.’ Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water” (Neh. 4:16-18, 21-23).

People may be averse to taking risks but risk can be evaluated, controlled, and encouraged.

Leverage Diversity

With only a few workers skilled at building walls and hanging gates Nehemiah had to utilize all the labor resources available to him. Priests worked next to merchants and city leaders. People from other towns worked next to the people of Jerusalem. No one who had a heart for the work was kept from helping because of their background, lack of experience, or their place of birth.

Provide Autonomy

While the wall was being built we never read about Nehemiah micro-managing the project. Neither do we read about an army of supervisors running around checking everyone’s work. People had the assignment of rebuilding the wall in front of their own home, and they did so with great care. Nowhere is there a report that their work had to be redone because it didn’t meet quality standards.

Motivate & Inspire

Every day Nehemiah walked the walls watching the work being done. No doubt he encouraged the people as he went. Eliashib, the high priest, set an example by working with his priests rebuilding the Sheep Gate (Neh. 3:1). Workers who see their leaders standing next to them in their labors rather than seeking the comfort of a shady tree will be motivated to work harder.

Reward & Recognize

Following the establishment of a government, the people rededicated the city and themselves to God. Then, at Nehemiah’s command they celebrated; “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to the Lord” (Neh. 8:10).

It doesn’t take a lot of time or money to provide recognition for a job well done. Employee surveys continue to reflect people’s desire for recognition and rewards that are administered fairly and recognize work of exceptional quality.

Encourage Followership

It is interesting that Nehemiah had city leaders working on the wall doing the same work as the merchant. Nowhere in this account do we find these leaders complaining about the work they were asked to complete. Neither do we read about the common man complaining about long hours and poor working conditions. People simply went about doing the work they were assigned.

The ability to follow direction and to be a reliable, trustworthy worker is a skill to be honored not one to be looked down upon as subservient.

One Final Thought

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He prayed for the people in Jerusalem (1:5-11), for success with King Artaxerxes (1:4), when people opposed the building (4:4-5), and for strength (6:9). Several times he prayed that God would remember him for the work he had done.

Nehemiah’s objective in rebuilding the city walls and gates was not to create an empire for himself or to create great personal wealth. His motive throughout this work was to serve God. Nehemiah’s example of selflessness and willing service to God is important for us today. In the rush to develop earth shaking new products that will catapult our companies into global prominence we should pause and reflect.

Consider the example of Nehemiah who cared greatly for God’s people. He left a great job serving a king to live in a ruined city among the remnant of Judah. He faced opposition from outsiders, he dealt with laborers unskilled in their work, and people who made slaves out of their countrymen.

All this he did hoping only to please God. Ask yourself, “What motive is driving my work?”

Bonus Whitepaper

8 Steps to Creating a Barrier Busting Enabled Organization is an excerpt from The Executive Enabler–Enabling Organizations Increases Productivity. This 12-page bonus whitepaper includes much more in-depth content including:

  • Who Should Coach
  • Barriers to Learning
  • Coaching versus Enabling
  • Nehemiah the Enabler
  • Getting Started – 8 Steps to Enabling Your Organization
  • Words to Ponder
  • Cases in Real Life
  • Meeting Notes to Create an Enabled Organization
  • Action Keys for the Executive Enabler

You can download this valuable resource here:

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome! Have you worked in an “enabled” organization. Have you led an “enabled” organization? How did that experience compare to typical organizations?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

Category: Skills | Situational Leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • John P. Weis says:

    Very comprehensive, Ron, thanks. I like the comment on “selflessness.” So often we see leaders consumed by their own egocentrism and not always the good of the group.

    • Ron says:

      I SO agree! It seems more and more we are surrounded with leaders that look to their own self-interests, ahead of those they are supposed to be representing!

  • Matthew Alvarado says:

    These 8 steps are really valuable. In our current society, there are many barriers that need to be broken down to enable an organization but simply acting as inhibitors. The two that jump out to me the most are providing autonomy and leverage diversity. Providing autonomy is essential to the personal development in any aspect because it breaks down the personal barrier that may inhibit them from performing their best. Leveraging diversity is equally as important. Barriers based off of diversity are more and more prevalent today. It is important to break down these barriers and realize that you are all working towards one common goal and need to unite past the barriers of diversity to achieve those goals.

  • Adrie says:

    An “enabler” organization is much more rewarding to work in than one where someone is constantly micro-managing. I do believe that we have to look at the industry and the type of work being done to decide the level of freedom given to employees. Enablers have to possess the necessary skills to discover what motivates others to succeed. This type of leader must have strong personal goals and truly believe in the company’s vision to lead employees to align professional and work goals. A very important point that is made on this post is that leaders need to encourage risk taking. A leader must cultivate a trusting relationship with others and lead by example. Employees must be able to see that their manager cares enough to motivate them through the challenge of reaching goals.

  • Ariel Wong says:

    In a way, I feel that college professors are enablers. Although they may teach the material during class, it is up to the students to sit down and apply the material to their homework. Many times in my math and science classes, I have formed homework groups with friends and classmates so that we could teach each other challenging material. Not all teachers respond to e-mails in a timely fashion so it is up to us to take charge of our homework and ultimately, our grade. I don’t like classes that I have to teach myself the material but when I do wrestle with questions, I find that I understand the material much better than someone who has been spoon fed answers.

  • Jamie Montgomery says:

    I feel that throughout life there are many enablers. The biggest enablers in my life are my coaches. They give us the skills we need to do, how to achieve them and the help along the way to make progress. They give us a certain skill and how it must look and allow us to go through trial and error to learn how to make it hit. They give us drills to condition our bodies to understand the new skills at hand. The coaches can only do so much until we have to take it into our hands and do what we know how to do. The coaches cannot perform the skills, that is where the athletes come into play and must take what we are given and hit the skills and routine in competition. I feel we are able to learn better from doing the skills instead of talking about them which my coaches tend to do. If we are able to try and work through each drill and the different skills, we are able to work past the barriers.

  • Sara Alvarez says:

    I have personally led in an enabled environment as editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper. While my teacher was still present in class, she acted more as an advisor, and the paper was student run. This was still my favorite leadership position i’ve ever had, and I loved feeling like I had an actual say in the outcome in the product along with plenty of room for freedom within leadership. because of this, I was constantly motivated to create improvements to the position, and worked very hard to create a network of support between the students I was leading. It created a fun and creative atmosphere that people looked forward to and collaborated together, and it proved successful in our end product. I have worked in non enabled environments, and it was awful. High turnover rates in employment because people didn’t feel valued or their skills utilized, they were mostly there only to perform labor and then go home. Different managers micro-managed me or didn’t even take the time to know my name, and the organization of the job was very sloppy and stressful. Since then, I have been working with management to improve the conditions so that even though the work itself may not be ideal, maybe my co-workers can enjoy it more. My goal is always to improve whatever situation I am placed in, regardless of circumstances.

  • Lisa Olivarez says:

    The closest of my experiences that maybe compared to an enabled organization was in working with Homework House. There was a highly moderate level of autonomy, rewards, and diversity in personalities. And volunteers were motivated to teach and mentor their students in ways that best reached them. However, I think this is still far different from an organization that focuses on enabling, because an enabling environment seeks to unite employees in a way that fosters improvement through help from other members.