“I don’t want to take control, so I want you all to sit here and tell me how you’re going to make this decision.” I heard that once from a leader I was working with while she addressed her team. She didn’t want to give her team any direction. Instead, she wanted to “empower” them with the ability to make their own decisions.
This was how she viewed leading others. Almost all hands off. No final decisions on her end. Great stories. Icebreakers. Being that “positive” influence. This was her recipe for excellent results.
Unbeknownst to her, the team viewed her actions in a different way — possibly in a light that was a bit less bright than she assumed… and we’ll explore exactly what they were thinking as we continue this article on Effective Leadership: How to Properly Empower Your Team.
I can almost guarantee that if you’re reading this, you’ve either experienced a leader like this or you consider yourself to be this leader (or someone similar) who wants to empower their team through actions similar to our sample leader above.
As we move forward, the goal of this article is not to pretend like I have all the answers for you, but to instead offer some seasoned advice to those of you seeking to enhance your leadership skills and truly empower your team in the most effective way possible.
If you ask any parent of a teenager they can attest to the struggle of being able to know just how much responsibility to give their teen without dreading an absolute catastrophe happening.
As a parent, typically a teenager will have to model good behavior before they’re allowed to go out with friends on their own, drive the family car, babysit or even take the younger siblings to the park.
When they’ve “earned” the right to those privileges, the ability to empower them to make their own decisions and begin to work a little bit outside of your parenting box takes place.
This takes trust, consistency, moderation and, most importantly, direction. Any growing, thriving child wants to know what they can do, as well as when and how they can accomplish their goals.
In the same way, while striving to become an effective leader, we cannot ignore these same principles. These essential attributes of empowerment have to be established prior to truly allowing your team to achieve success.
So What Was Her Team Thinking?
Sitting around the board room, Jim made eye contact with Heather for the third time that morning, and the daily eye-ball roll took place. Once again, their fearless leader had given them encouragement to move forward, but again, had not told them where they were going or why.
They had a hard deadline to finish their project by and just needed her to make a decision about who they should work with to complete the final phase. It was essential that the right vendor was chosen or else they couldn’t guarantee positive results to the board.
How could they explain to her that they actually needed her to provide them with direction to empower them to complete their project effectively? Would she question their abilities or chide them for challenging her judgment if they approached her and pressed for an answer? After all, she said she didn’t want to be involved and the decision was up to them.
How to Properly Empower Your Team
Empowering your team to be successful is not a simple task. You, as a leader, need to set certain parameters and milestones in order to ensure their success — and remember, when they’re successful, so are you.
Everything you do as a leader affects your team — including every decision that you make or do not make. Your role was designed to lead others, and in doing so, you must lead by example.
In order to understand how to properly empower your team, let’s review the essential attributes of an effective leader:
You love the word “no”. The first and primary attribute of an effective leader is understanding and falling in love with decision making words like “no”, “yes”, “possibly” and other directive-resulting phrases. Believe it or not, by not using phrases or words that provide direction, you’re most likely frustrating your team members and reducing their self-esteem. You have been put in a position of leadership, and if you are uncomfortable with directing others through decision making, it may be wise to choose another position.
You enjoy trusting people. Not that you’d welcome anyone into your circle of trust, but you can easily relay to those you’re leading that you trust them. This doesn’t mean that you don’t provide a trail of justification for this trust, but you don’t require years to pass before you allocate trust to your team. Start them out with a few inches of rope and continue to gradually give them more as time passes. Don’t give them too much, or they may hang themselves and resent you for it. Keep a tight, firm grip on what they’re doing and eventually, you’ll be able to let them run freely — trusting that they will return to you with excellent results when the task is completed.
You make time for your team. Despite your busy schedule, you have a set time each week that you spend time with each of your team members — giving them a platform to vent their ideas, frustrations and victories to a listening ear. There is nothing worse for you to do than to constantly reschedule time with your team members. That shows them that they’re not worth your time and something else is more important than their success. If you’re doing this — take a step back and really consider what you’re putting ahead of your team’s success. The answer should not be “your own success” because you are only as successful as your team is.
Believe it or not, in just those three short paragraphs, if you follow those qualifiers, you will have naturally empowered your team to be successful. You don’t have to go out of your way, attend seminars or take training about empowerment if you stick to the three points mentioned above.
Don’t over-complicate leadership. However, also realize that if the above doesn’t define your personality as a leader, you may want to consider handing off the leadership reigns to someone else.
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