The Art of Empowerment

The Art of Empowerment

Aug 17, 2011

Sitting at the table I look at a member of my leadership team and I say, “It is your call, go ahead and see that it happens.” I thank the group, adjourn the meeting, and we walk away.

I go to my office, lean back in my chair and look at the ceiling. I’m sweating a little bit because I know that I have just relinquished a mission critical objective to a trusted leader.

Wait what? Trusted member, important strategy, proper delegation.., Check, check, check! This should be great. So why am I even the slightest bit hesitant about things? Let me come back to this.

In the world of leadership we implore people to empower their teams. We know the risk of not having engaged, talented, and of course empowered employees.

This drives rhetoric from the experts such as… Without empowerment and communication your employees will never perform at the optimal level and your organization will suffer.

All of this is true.

It is hard to build a bulletproof or even stable business where employees feel like they aren’t empowered. We know this because the science says so and our experiences back it up.

So why do we struggle with it?

For leaders, I suggest that empowerment isn’t always easy. This is primarily because we are sometimes doers and often times perfectionists. We have reached professional heights because we are willing to put in the work and because we have a vision of success.

Sometimes, much of that achievement was founded in doing and not in leading.

As savvy business people, we know that growth will be limited if we are always doing so we decide to grow. We add systems, processes, and most importantly we add people.

People are the heart and soul of any organization. To date, you can’t automate the buying relationship (entirely) and you certainly can’t automate brand advocacy, and that is why people still work for companies.

The inherent problem with people of course is that they are prone to mistakes. If you are a perfectionist, even others doing things right can seem wrong and when it is your business whether for real or intrinsically, that can be tough to swallow.

However, mistakes and adversity are part of growth. And while I struggle with empowerment I also know that real relationships are built in the trenches. Solidified in the darkness, and the fruits are recognized as we exit to the light.

So with this growth in place whether from small to medium, medium to large, or large to mega- corporation, we all have to struggle with empowerment.

What do we do to overcome?

To some extent the little knot in your gut may never completely go away. The textbooks, professors, experts, and speakers will tell you that best way to overcome the struggle of fully trusting, delegating, and empowering employees is to hire well, train well, and build loyalty.

All of which sound easy enough, and they certainly are ideal. However finding these people can be challenging.

Some leaders may just have that inner confidence that the plan will be carried out. For someone like me who seeks things to be done a certain way empowerment is hard, but necessary for scale, for growth, and for success.

Some days I just have to trust myself, the team, and the strategies in place. And no matter how skeptical I may be I walk around with my head up ready to serve those I work with. After all, that is what a leader does.

However I want to ask you, how do you empower? Does it come easy or is it difficult? What are the ways you have overcome your tendency to seek perfection?

26 comments
FESTUS
FESTUS

Empowerment is an obligation of  leadership. It requires skills, provision of funds and monitoring. However, u cannot empower someone who does not show interest in the empowerment. Some people still believes in protocol.

letmemoveyou
letmemoveyou

I used to find delgating challenging, but have learned that a good leader sometimes needs to lead, sometimes needs to follow, and definitely needs to know how to bring people together. Now, I am much better at delegating and allowing others to shine. Recognising that as a key role of a leader puts everything in perspective. Trust, celebrate and acknowledge successes, troubleshoot and work through challenges, and always be encouraging. Delegating gets easier with practice!

johnlaffan1
johnlaffan1

Being present to others thinking,reflecting,sharing dreams,debating and making plans all the stuff of Empowerment forged from relational trust.

johnlaffan1
johnlaffan1

The establishment of 'Relational Trust',builds and sustains empowerment.Empowerment has been realized and continually celebrated through our professional learning framework. This framework challenges our leadership team to identify needs, define Goals with set targets.Team leaders are then responsible for working closely with colleagues in capacity building,tracking growth,reflection and next step planning......all this empowered leadership will only impact when 'Relational Trust' has been gained.

preisocrates
preisocrates

If I may once more...to paraphrase, it's terrifying not to delegate. Perhaps I could always do it easily (to well chosen and trained people) because I never thought that I'm perfect and I know everything better. Perhaps interestingly, quite the opposite is the case. Always searched for people who are better for that part of the job than me, the higher level manager. I used to say (and think): if somebody around the table among my middle managers is not better in his job than me, he has no more place there...The manager is not the manager because he/she can everything better than his/her direct reports. He must know something better than everything else reporting to him but on another level of synthesis.

profkrg
profkrg

It's terrifying to delegate. I'm not good at it. However, it is the only way that the students I advise can learn. I have to give them tasks and then trust them to perform them well. Perhaps even more importantly, I have to be able to recognize the instructional benefits of their failures.

Latest blog post: TV Job in Florida

preisocrates
preisocrates

The interesting point is when you write that the ideal (hire, train well and build team) is difficult to achieve. First, the training and building are reatively your scope while to hire well depends very much of the possible candidates being less in your power. Second, if you well know that the situation is less than ideal, then, a certain nervousness, tension is quite normal. Third, the Blanchard rule (situational leadership) also works here. Lots depend on which category the delegated person is classifiable in. All these are determinng the level of justified risk-taking attitude and the necessary set and level of management's involvement in monitoring and controlling.

MichaelBicak
MichaelBicak

The key is to pull back and stow away one's ego. The joy comes in watching your people soar and excel at a level that derives directly from your confidence in them, and your trust and leadership.

If you're having trouble grasping the hows of letting go, check out Capt. Mike Abrashoff's excellent book, "It's Your Ship - Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy". As commander of the USS Benfold, he faced exactly this challenge. He now runs a company called Grass Roots Leadership. Take the time to seek him out. Well worth the investment.

Michael Bicak

NedJohnson
NedJohnson

For me, empowering is like parenting. Guidelines and expectations are important, but then colleagues/children need to be trusted to use their best judgment within those parameters and make decisions that aren’t second-guessed. Once the decision has run it’s course, there will either be success or a “teachable moment,” which should ideally entail a conversation about whether expectations were met and if not, why not. No finger-pointing or retribution. Really hard to do but really, REALLY important.

It is often perilously easy to jump in before outcomes have been realized, pulling the task or job or decision out of folks’ hands, with the justification that “this is really important!” True. But, the message to colleagues or children is then one that, no, in fact, your judgment really is not trusted. That whole empowerment thing was more words that truth.

Oh, and if we really want colleagues or children to develop judgment and wisdom, they have to be allowed to make (and own) their own mistakes/decisions. There is no other way to gain wisdom. (For more on that, I love Barry Schwartz’ “Practical Wisdom.”)

Ned Johnson

president & tutor-geek

PrepMatters

mikepweiss
mikepweiss

Dan - excellent post - it's nice to see the honesty that so many leaders are afraid to admit! Two things come to mind:

1. Delegation is an art form; it is a science; it is not innate and oftentimes goes against our better judgement because it makes us uncomfortable. Most people think delegation is dishing out the lesser, grunt-like tasks - it is not. True delegation is empowering someone with an important and sometimes critical task. It shows trust. It allows you to let go. Sure, they may fail but with guidance and support they will succeed. And that is a growth opportunity for both involved. But lemme tell you - It ain't easy!

2. One of my cardinal rules as a leader to is to hire people better than me. I know I cannot do everything - in fact I can only do a couple of things really well. As a leader I have to accept that I am not perfect and I will need help. At the same time I have to believe that my job will not be threatened if I bring on smarter people - my ego cannot get in the way. Surrounding yourself with smarter and better people will only make the team stronger AND make delegation easier.

AngelaMaiers
AngelaMaiers

Dan-

Great post!

I think a bigger question for leaders, is this:

Does your culture support empowerment?

Empowerment entails a total culture change...from top to bottom. Indeed, leaders can influence through their behaviors, actions, and interactions, but empowerment is not the job of one person. When people think that "someone," has to bestow empowerment on them, they feel exactly the opposite: un-empowered.

Empowerment comes from the individual. Organizations who wish to empower, must seek to create a work environment which helps foster the ability and desire of the individual and collective community of employees to act in empowered ways. The leader has the responsibility to remove barriers that limit the ability of people to do that.

Natasha_D_G
Natasha_D_G

"Perfectionist, even others doing things right can seem wrong" So true!!!! I struggled with this early on in my career. I had to learn (still learning) that we all dance to different drums and someone's 110% may very well be less than your 110%.

The key to empowerment starts with WHO you have on your team: team members who are self motivated and take initiative make a drastic difference. Sometimes even with a full tank of gas (empowerment) a car lies idle......no driver.

It comes too from building rapport and trust with your team. And most importantly having people who WANT to work for you rather then have to work for you - - pivot point. Upcoming board meeting? They ask you what you need before you have to say anything because they know your success equals their success.

stevebellnow
stevebellnow

Dan - For me empowering my team is sometimes a difficult. It depends truly depends on the situation. That situation is the overall tasks and people together that will hopefully make the empowerment a success. I know deep down that everything is going to be okay - at least that is what I tell myself.

All I can do is make sure that the vision is set, the people are trained and able, our communication system is defined and help out whenever needed. Most of the time it works.

samfiorella
samfiorella

Great post Dan. I struggle with this as well. Some call it perfectionism, others have said I'm a work-a-holic and that I just can't let go. Maybe it's a lack of patience for others to get things done? In many leaders - maybe myself included - it's ego.

Freud listed Ego as one of the three constructs in his structural model of the psyche, stating that Ego seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief. The id is about the "pleasure principle", it avoids pain or unpleasure that is generated by increases in tension.

Freud went on to say ego "drives judgment, reality testing, control, planning, defence, synthesis of information, and intellectual functioning." It's inherent in leadership. So the inablity of some leaders to not "let go" is unconscious...trying to avoid the pain of possible failure and the tension it can cause.

I don't know a scientific way to undo this (i didn't take second year psychology!). I've had to learn from experience and simply do as you did. Empower people when I'd have prefered to do it myself, walk away and swear at myself in the next room. What I can tell you is that it get easier every time.

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@profkrg Makes sense Kenna...We all MUST do it - just an interesting thing to think about.

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@preisocrates Thanks for the great feedback - scope, ideal, vs reality. Always drives a great conversation. Cheers!

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@NedJohnson Thanks for a great response Ned.

First.... You are absolutely right about finger pointing. Total no no.

Second...you absolutely have to let people fail.

I hope to hear more from you in the future!

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@mikepweiss I love it - we are exactly on the same page - and we both think the solution is the same. AND that the solutions aren't easy and neither is leadership! Thanks for coming by.

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@AngelaMaiers Angela - you are right about your question as to support. My thoughts here would be that if the top leadership struggle with empowering employees then the answer will be no.

As leaders we wish to empower, I know I do. But at heart we still struggle with trust. The question I ask is that entirely the fault of the leader? Or something else?

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@stevebellnow The last line in the first paragraph says it all. I always do a little bit of that. Thanks for reading and sharing your thought! Much appreciation.

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

@samfiorella This is so thoughtful and I love that the science supports the way I feel.

It is also great to see that others struggle with the same thing I do.

Thanks for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Confidence (Belief in One’s Self) The belief in one’s self precedes the ability to help others. Confident in their ability to help their clients, effective salespeople give their clients the […]

  2. […] communication tool.8. Convey Your Thoughts with Clarity Whether you’re writing or speaking, get right to the point. No one has time to figure out what you may be trying to articulate. Clarity trumps confusion every […]

  3. […] you’re writing or speaking, get right to the point. No one has time to figure out what you may be trying to articulate. Clarity trumps confusion every […]

  4. […] you’re writing or speaking, get right to the point. No one has time to figure out what you may be trying to articulate. Clarity trumps confusion every […]

  5. […] you’re writing or speaking, get right to the point. No one has time to figure out what you may be trying to articulate. Clarity trumps confusion every […]

  6. […] knowing that the sum of progress is throttled by “hoarding” responsibility, they reluctantly empower employees and delegate work because the alternative is too […]

  7. […] we are worth a salt as leaders we will have put you in a position to succeed and one of the things we look for more than anything is people that can just get the job […]

Wordpress SEO Plugin by Wordpress SEO Plugin