Empowerment is a great thing.
Empowered employees show greater commitment, stay more engaged, and create better results. Empowered employees take more initiative and get more done than employees who work in a fear-based, command-and-control environment.
As a new supervisor, you hear and read about these organizational performance results, and you decide that you want to empower your employees. So, you go tell them that they are empowered. You watch and wait for them to act empowered. And you wonder why you don’t get the results you expected.
What went wrong?
Before I offer the solution, I’ll ask a question:
Is a person empowered when you tell them they are empowered or when they feel empowered?
The full answer is that both must be true to get the results mentioned above. You must give people the authority and freedom to act – you must empower them. And, people must feel empowered before they will act on that empowerment.
Most leaders get the first part. Telling people that they have authority and that they can act on their own initiative is a pretty obvious first step towards creating an empowered work force.
The second part is a bit more difficult to quantify. It is more difficult to put into specific action steps. In fact, the second part is outside your direct control. It is, however, something that you can influence. There are things you can do or say that undermine your efforts to empower the members of your team. Likewise there are things you can do or say that will support your efforts.
If people live in fear that you will criticize them, condemn them, or complain about them, they will not feel empowered. They will feel controlled. If they feel controlled, they will not deliver the results of an empowered workplace that I mentioned above.
To create a feeling of empowerment, do everything in your power to foster a positive workplace with little or no fear as the motivating factor in people’s actions. Here are two ideas to consider as you work to achieve a fear-free environment that supports and encourages empowerment:
Compliment more than you condemn.
Seeing what people do wrong is easy. Looking past it to see what they did well can take some effort – especially when you are under tight time and budget constraints.
Remember that any negative comments you make will have a much stronger impact on people than your positive ones. Look for and comment on anything that people are doing well. This simple act will do more to create a feeling of empowerment than any spoken or written assignment of responsibility you will ever make.
Coach more than you critique.
When you trust people to do things, they will make mistakes. That is just a fact of life as a leader. How you respond to the mistakes people make has a big impact on the feelings people have about you, their work, and how much you trust them.
When a person on your team makes a mistake, you need to correct it. When you do, remember to use more positive feed forward – what you do want to see in the future – than any comments about what you do not want to see.
Your Now Steps: Identify someone on your team who you want to behave in a more “empowered” way. Before the end of the day, find an opportunity to praise something he did well – even if it is a very small thing. Over the next week, hold a coaching conversation with him where you focus primarily on his behaviors that you want to see more of in the future.
Ed W. says
Fantastic post on one (of many) aspect of leadership that I am incredibly passionate about.
My entire professional career (a very short 16 years) has been spent in some facet of public safety focusing a vast majority of that time in leadership roles. During this time, I’ve seen an array of leadership models/methods and have been incredibly blessed with the ability to analyze and sift the positive from each, helping to grow myself and others. Through this process however, I’ve taken notice of several leadership trends evolving. One of those would be an organization’s willingness (or lack thereof) to empower, mentor, grow, and support its personnel. I believe that this arguably one of the most impactful practices for an organization due to the immeasurable impact both positively and negatively that it could potentially have on the entire organization.
Our society has evolved so drastically over the last 40-50 years that the mere idea of comparing today’s workforce with that of the 1960’s would be nearly impossible. Within that era the workforce mindset was (for the most part) not simply tied to showing up and supplying very little work to draw a paycheck. Their focus was on not only finishing the race, but taking home a medal. No matter the industry, there was an incredible sense of quality, pride, loyalty, and most of all, a sense of integrity and responsibility. They wouldn’t allow their good name to be tied to a product, service, or experience that less-than-stellar.
That being said, what are the variables separating the workforce of today from that of the 1960’s? Without question, I believe it’s the lack of strong servant leaders who have within them the ability to empower their personnel to take and maintain ownership of their role within the organization as well as ownership of the brand while strongly encouraging freedom to think and explore outside the box.
I truly believe that buried within most organizations, there are a handful of priceless gems that have within them the ability to take their organization to levels never imagined. They have within them the ability to not only improve the final product, but also the ability to strengthen the environment within the organization causing a ripple effect that will bring more gems to the surface. The turning point is quite simple, become the servant leader that the organization so desperately needs and make it a priority to personally seek out and identify the gems within and then lead them in a style where they are able to thrive. The last and most simplistic step of all, get out of their way and allow them latitude to put the organization on the map!
Hi Ed – I can ‘hear’ your passion as I read your comment. Thanks for leaving your thoughts!