Empowerment is a tired buzzword wouldn’t you agree? Feels like we’ve used it to the point of exhaustion. The ‘empowerment answer’ seems to be dependent on who you ask and their place in the organisation. The leader at the front thinks it’s going amazingly well. The leaders in the middle feel torn by expectations from above and demands from below. Those lower can often feel increasingly removed from the heartbeat of what they signed up for.
Despite this, it remains an essential ingredient to success doesn’t it? To paraphrase the quote attributed to a number of people, it’s better to empower people and have them win, than not empower them at all and have them stay. I would also hasten to add, my leadership style that likes action, results and has an eye for detail has to work doubly hard on having the patience and the discipline to truly empower. It’s a week-by-week challenge for me that’s for sure. What I DO KNOW is that you can’t grow bigger by growing broader? The more people you empower the greater the reach you can have. That’s got to be good news for any leader. Knowing all that, I’m an empowerment optimist AND an empowerment student. Here are a handful of lessons that will serve your quest to grow bigger by growing broader.
Authentic Empowerment is not:
- Individuals and interest groups getting to do whatever they want whenever they want.
- An individuals needs being placed above the needs of the team and the big dream.
- Managing people’s emotions as more of a priority than mission achievement.
- Allowing sideways energy to exist in the mission of the Church.
- Giving up too early. Empowerment takes time, energy and focus.
Empowerment is taking the time, investing the experience, and providing the space for a leader on the team to become significantly better at what is required of them.
Time, experience and space, are key ingredients for empowerment to work! Becoming significantly better as leaders is the goal.
Evaluate Your Empowerment Pathology.
This is an attention IN opportunity. Reflect on what you really, really believe in empowering others. Are you willing to have more effective, more popular, even more famous people in your team?
Even more courageous, ask your teammates ‘What’s it like to experience empowerment by me?” Sidebar: If you cringe at this, that might tell you where to start with your leadership development.
Reflect on these questions:
- To what degree do you truly want others to grow and develop? Truly?
- How much of your ‘meeting time’ is spent coaching and mentoring rather than leading and directing?
- Am I taking on the posture of progress and development rather than activity and outcomes (both matter, empowerment is a process)?
- Am I offering more than advice? Am I showing the way and providing do-able chunks of character and skill development?
- Do I have a way to clarify the learning’s, look for evidence and have a time for feedback and continued development?
When you know and take full responsibility for how you function within this area, you can begin to adapt it and shape it so you serve your team of leaders as best as you can. You need to know what you’re looking for in terms of results, process, culture, language and motive. All these things shape the way you lead and empower and expect others to do the same.
Decide To Trust Your Team.
Sounds trite doesn’t it? Trust! Trust! Of course, I trust my team… Until you see them do something ‘you wouldn’t have done’ – It’s that inner sense or voice that immediately evaluates what you are seeing or experiencing. I know it all too well, I did it last week.
When was the last time you began a sentence ‘If it were me” or “What I wanted was”? Or my all time worst, which I am guilty of as well “I didn’t know” or “You didn’t ask me” (Yes, I did that last week too).
How did you feel when your best foot forward was deftly swept to one side by a single statement by your leader? Not fun at all. Feels like all the effort you put out doesn’t matter, and even after all that, the project was a failure. Teams need to feel trusted. Teams need to know you have their back. Teams need to know they can attempt big things and be ok if it doesn’t work.
Trust begins with clear expectations. When there is clarity about what is expected, by whom and for what purpose, and by when the empowerment experience can begin. This is a lesson I have learnt, over and over. When I see an outcome that is less than optimal, I inevitably reflect on whether or not I was clear at the beginning of this process on expectations. Often I wasn’t and that created the problems being experienced now.
Think In Steps Before Outcomes.
This is the counter-intuitive part of empowerment. In one sense, all that matters is the outcome. The results are the one score on the board that tells you whether or not you have experienced the mission. This is true. Every number tells a story. What’s your story?
The only way the outcome becomes a reality is the capacity of the person getting built, and they are empowered over time. The key is intentionality over time. Yes, aim for the goal and have a clear process that develops the capacity of those tasked with accomplishing the goal. It’s a both/and scenario.
Develop a Rigorous Evaluation and Feedback Culture.
Similarly to the Vision Translation Paradox, leaders need to have a way to get feedback on how the empowerment process is going. This needs to happen along the way, and cannot wait until the end. Agree on a way to get feedback, provide direction and develop skills, all while the empowerment process is happening.
One good way to do this is have meeting points like this:
- Daily or weekly check-in.
- Weekly progress report. What’s working? What’s not working?
- Monthly or Quarterly strategic focus; how do we make things even better?
These meeting points will help focus the kind of meeting and the length of the meetings. The conversation that gets had and what actions are agreed on. Utilise those meetings well, start them quickly, finish them on time.
When you regularly read your dashboard, you are more able to adjust and refine what is happening so authentic empowerment happens.
When it Doesn’t Work Treat Others the Way You Want to be Treated.
People are capable of amazing things. Teams are capable of amazing things. Leaders have amazing dreams for people and teams, and deeply desire that people win. However, the opposite is also true. People are capable of unresourceful behaviours and attitudes as well. People are capable of behaviours that make mission achievement hard. People mess up sometimes. You, and me included.
When it goes off track, and I feel myself getting frustrated and angry, one of the questions I try to ask myself is “If I made this mistake how would I want to be treated?” That helps frame the best way forward. Never once did I discipline my kids for falling over when they tried to walk. I cheered them on, encouraged them, gave the best direction I could and got them straight back up.
Mistakes are inevitable, not final. Learn from them. Cultivate the culture of “failing forward” in your teams. Encourage open, and honest debrief, and people with big enough character, with small enough egos, to passionately lean into the dream you share. When we trust each other, when we believe our intentions are good a mistake can be a significant launching pad for the future.
Empowerment takes time. Empowerment takes focus. Empowerment takes energy. Do it anyway. The cost of not empowering your teams is significantly greater than the energy it takes to make it happen. Remember, you grow bigger when you grow broader.
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