We’ve been working under the traditional business hierarchy for so long that it can feel fixed, especially in large companies. Most of us know there’s a better way. Company leaders want autonomous employees and employees want autonomy, but this type of culture seems to elude many while only a few have mastered the art. The truth is that a culture of empowerment is not a pipe dream: with the right focus and attitude, you can capture it too.
Let’s try to make it simple. Empowerment boils down to either enriching or enlarging someone’s role, or both. It means transferring leadership from manager to team member. So it’s not only a change in responsibility for team members, it also changes what a day looks like for managers. You can make large or small changes over time depending on your circumstances, but as long as you continuously transfer leadership down the line, you’re working towards a more empowering culture. Here are six tips for how to do it right.
#1. Give them wings.
When you create new responsibilities for a team member, you must also make sure they have the tools to do the job. Give them everything they need and then resist the urge to micromanage. You don’t want to be a babysitter, and your employees definitely don’t want to be babysat. Checking on progress may seem like a good way to run things, but if you check too often, you’ll only distract the employee and perhaps deter their progress. You may feel like you’re helping, but you’re also communicating to the employee a lack of trust. Loosen the reigns a bit. Giving up some control may make you uneasy, but sit with the discomfort and it will get easier. Negotiate expectations.
#2. Let them fly.
Good leaders know how to set people up for success and then watch that person be credited for a job well done. They are master delegators and effective cheerleaders. Good leaders also realize that team members can’t be expected to get it perfect right away: they are comfortable with mistakes and a learning curve. Part of delegating is letting your team members fail, and resisting the urge to take over. Instead mentor your team members, help them learn and find out how they’d do it differently.
When you need a little help letting go, think back to your missteps along the way to your current position and how your mentors let you stumble. You probably didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing at the time, but it happened. At some point someone trusted you to try something new, so trust your team members and watch them meet your expectations and then soar past them. That is the true mark of a good leader.
#3. Make it easy to jump in.
If you value your employees’ input, you should have an effective and easy way for them to contribute ideas. You not only want to transfer power down the line, you always want to tap the great resource of their collective suggestions. If you don’t have a tool specifically for this purpose, employee ideas will be dismissed and your team members will quickly learn to keep their mouths shut because no one is listening. Check out #4 in this previous blog post for an example of how it’s been done in other companies.
#4. Set a good example.
Have you seen the movie Office Space? The film has a great scene where “the Bobs” are interviewing employees to essentially makes cuts. They ask every employee, “What would you say you do here?” In the movie, it’s a joke, but it sheds light on a real problem. Don’t be the boss that people resent because no one quite knows what “you do here”. People can’t respect what they don’t see or understand!
People should know what you do—even if you’re in executive leadership! If you want proactive employees, then you should demonstrate proactive, risk-taking behavior. Be as transparent as possible and show them that you are worthy of emulation! Help the team understand the goals and objectives of the executive team so they can help you get there.
#5. Be gracious
If an idea doesn’t work out as planned, that doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. It is absolutely vital that team members know there won’t be a negative consequence for taking a risk. If you let them know that you appreciate their effort, then they will try again. Employees who feel valued will find new and improved ways of doing things. Those who receive more than financial stability from a job end up feeling more satisfied, and that benefits the employer just as much as the employee.
Kick the outdated leader-follower relationship to the curb and encourage your employees to spread their wings. Employees who are allowed to reach their full potential by participating in a system based on mutual trust, independent work, and rewarded participation will be more satisfied than those who aren’t. And that’s empowering.
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