Rajiv Jayarajah“The role of leaders is not to get other people to follow them but to empower others to lead.” -Bill George

We recently conducted research with senior managers and HR leaders across a range of industries and found that empowerment is the key driver of a high performing team.

A leader is only as good as his or her team. As a business and leadership coach, I work with numerous business leaders and a common issue is being able to empower their team members while still maintaining their sense of leadership.

This conflict arises from the mindset of viewing “empowerment” and “leadership” as mutually exclusive.  That is, you either lead and manage your team and everything they do, or you show the team how it’s done and find you’re no longer needed.

So what IS empowerment and what would it look like for both you and your team?

I define empowerment as “having freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens”.  In business, empowerment means your team has the authority and ability to do what’s required to achieve goals.  Empowerment results in higher motivation and engagement, contributes to competence and satisfaction, ultimately resulting in improved performance that along with other factors can create a high-performance team.

An empowered team also has benefits for you as a leader:

  1. Allows you to concentrate on big-picture goals and activities
  2. Makes you appealing to work for, as no-one likes working for a micro-manager
  3. You’re no longer the single source for ideas

So how do you offer and develop empowerment within your team?

Good companies and leaders provide empowerment through an ongoing and deliberate engagement process such as:

  • Giving them space and delegation to take the initiative and make problem-solving decisions
  • Providing resources and opportunities in all aspects of your team’s professional development
  • Seeking their ideas, opinions, and feedback
  • Sharing information, challenges, and rewards
  • Holding them responsible and accountable for the outcomes of their actions

My clients find starting small is the best approach., both for them and their team.  For example, asking a staff member to sit in on a new client meeting is a better start than asking them to make a two-hour presentation to the Board of Directors and major shareholders.

It’s critical that you set the parameters of play.  Delegation and decision-making are essential. Gradually hand over new responsibilities which result in a level of decision-making on their part.  However, clarify what they have the approval to do and not do. Also, be clear if your organisation has formal delegations of authority that can’t be handed over. This way you give them freedom but also don’t set them and yourself up for an avoidable mistake.

Check in with them regularly to make sure they’re doing okay, and you’re comfortable with how things are progressing.  They also need to know when they should escalate things to you or at least communicate “important” matters.

This all sounds great, right?

However, sometimes certain things prevent empowerment from occurring.

Fear (Yours!).  It is not always easy handing over responsibility. You may feel a bit obsolete, or you might believe that no one can do this as well as you can. What if they make mistakes?  Big mistakes?

Organisational constraints.  What’s your operating environment like?  Are there formal delegations of authority? Is there only so much you can hand over or allow others to be privy to?  Is confidentiality an issue?  Is training available or even an option for your team? Is it appropriate for clients or customers to deal with your team members rather than you directly?

Cultural constraints.  How much freedom do you have in your role to make changes to the empowerment dynamic?  Do your own leaders encourage this? Do your team members even want this? Do they truly have the capability (either now or in the future) to take on and do more?

There are a few ways to try and overcome these challenges.

Address your fears and insecurities: You need to process your fears and insecurities about handing over responsibility. Once you make the mental shift and see this as an opportunity for both you and your team to develop you’ll become a better leader.  

Clear lines of communication between you and your team:  You need to build their confidence and belief that they can truly add value. Show them the benefits of such empowerment (if they don’t know it already) to themselves individually, the team and ultimately the business. Make sure you’re open and available for chats, questions and think-tanking.

Create a safe space: You need to offer a safe space.  Whilst it’s important your team remain accountable; the buck always stops with you.  You can’t pass blame if there are issues and errors.  Team members need to be able to voice opinions, suggestions, or even grievances in an environment that is respectful and non-judgemental.

Get endorsement:  The business needs to be on board with what you’re trying to achieve. Your staff can’t operate in a vacuum where empowerment ends as soon as they deal with members or managers from another team.

So, what are your thoughts on empowering your team as a way of being an effective leader?  Feel free to share your ideas or experiences with me.

If you need help with your business or leadership direction and you’re ready to invest in your professional development, please book a free 30-minute intro session HERE.

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