You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.
A Common Misconception
Frequently a common theme I speak on is self-leadership, however that is not the focus of today. But a common sub-theme of self-leadership is delegation, or knowing when to pass things from your plate to a fellow team member’s plate. There is a frequent misconception that delegating tasks from your to-do list to someone else’s is the same thing as employee empowerment.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Employee empowerment is the theme I’m focusing on here today and I want to start out by clarifying the difference between delegation and true empowerment.
Employee empowerment is promoting the self-actualization of another team member. It is setting them up for success and then stepping back to observe their work from the stands as a supportive fan. Perhaps my favorite analogy for employee empowerment is the runway. You help guide the employee teaching them to fly, and then you show them to the runway and watch as they take flight of their own accord.
Clearly, empowerment is not the same as the shared responsibilities of delegation, and there are a lot more ways to empower your employees than assigning them more tasks.
The first means of empowering your employees starts where all things begin, with communication. What’s at stake when it comes to communication? Well among the general confusion and setbacks poor communication causes, there is also money on the line. An article published by SHRM entitled “The Cost of Poor Communication” states, “David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.”
This reminds me of a quote I’ve heard one of my team members refer to, “specificity drives accountability, which drives results”. The core of this statement rings true, the more clear we can be in communicating our expectations, the less room for error there will be, and the greater the chances of a favorable outcome.
The power of clear communication is seen when entire organizations are united in their mission, vision, values and goals. That looks like a well-oiled machine moving forwards at great speeds gaining success at every step of the way. If the entire team knows the foundation of all expectations is the mission, vision and values, there is a greater sense of loyalty all around.
This can prove difficult, especially when organizations are going through restructuring or mergers, or even just identity crises. A close supporter of mine, Rich Gassen, offers a powerful example of how important this clear purpose is for organizations. He realized this importance and set out on a mission to establish a clear foundation at his organization, even if that meant tearing down an old system and rebuilding from the ground up.
Rich’s example demonstrates the risk involved when empowering your employees. Had his mission gone south, it could have caused a multitude of issues for the organization. True empowerment is risky. But that’s half the point. If your employees aren’t challenged to think outside the box and try new and risky solutions, then their personal growth will be stunted as well as the overall success of the organization.
The plane could crash once it leaves the runway, but if it never takes off in the first place there is a zero percent chance of success. The hazard with allowing your employees to work with generous margins of error, is knowing how to react when the risks do turn south, when the errors do occur.
Caring Leaders must be accepting of errors. Leaders can be firm and constructive, while also supportive and a catalyst for that employees’ personal development. Fear of retribution is a huge deterrence from opportunities for success.
Jo Bauler in her book, Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers wrote, “As the fear center of the brain becomes activated, activity in the problem-solving centers of the brain is diminished”. Fear counteracts productivity and restricts the borders of the mind inhibiting critical thinking.
Be a Resource
My last tip for how to successfully empower your team is a third key to setting them up for success. You cannot ask someone to complete a puzzle without giving them the pieces. Just so, leaders must take care to provide all the necessary resources for their team to successfully launch their planes into flight.
A team without resources feels devalued and replaceable. I correlate this experience to being stuck with your hands tied, left helpless facing a goal, with no means to achieve it. You can read more about the hopelessness that a lack of resources can cause here.
The Gift of Empowerment
Empowerment is a gift, not complex in the way in which it is given, and a gift that is realized through the actions of the receiver. That is why it is so important that leaders go about empowering their employees in the right way. One slip up, an unclear direction, a harsh retort, or a missing resource, can set up your employee for failure and affect the overall success of your organization.
Be the gift of empowerment to your people, show them you care.