Truly empowering staff is a difficult thing for many leaders to do and many organizations are far more controlling than they are empowering. While this is often driven by good motives - make sure that things don't go wrong, it is highly demotivating to staff and actually keeps staff from growing and developing. After all, without having to take responsibility and risks one does not grow. Simply following the instructions of another is not a recipe for development.
The root of unempowered cultures is often fear that someone may make a mistake which reflects poorly on the leader - which is about the insecurities of a leader. Or, it is hubris on the leader's part that no one can do it as well as they can. Thus the need to control rather than empower. The point is that lack of empowerment is not about the staff but about the leader. When leaders recognize that this is about them, they are more likely to pay attention to the issue.
In unempowered cultures:
- People feel controlled
- Permission is always needed
- The ideas of staff are often ignored
- The best staff generally leave
- The leader is seen as fearful or indecisive
- Staff don't grow
- The organization suffers
Leaders who resist empowering staff end up hurting their staff, their organization and themselves. Their fear or ego gets in the way of forward progress. If you want to develop a healthy organization, however, you will overcome both fear and ego and allow your staff appropriate freedom.
Here are some things to remember as you do so.
1. Recognize that empowering others may well mean that some things will fail. Failure is a good thing because if nothing fails, little is being tried! Breakthroughs come through trying new things or doing things in new ways. The best leaders allow failure and practice autopsy without blame. The best lessons are often learned when something does not work as we wanted it to.
2. Realize that others will do things different than you. We are all wired and gifted differently. The issue is not usually how something gets done but that it gets done. Be OK with different approaches knowing that yours is only one of many.
3. Give freedom within boundaries. If there are specific boundaries you don't want crossed, be clear about them so staff know where they have freedom and where they have limits. All freedom comes with boundaries after all.
4. Be specific about the outcomes you desire rather than the strategy to get there. Strategies can vary but the outcomes need to be clear.
5. Stay connected and guide the process not through telling or micromanagement but through ongoing dialogue that allows the best ideas to emerge. Ask questions rather than telling someone what to do. Sometimes that will mean stepping back and allowing something not to work and allow the staff member to figure it out.
6. Give appropriate feedback in a way that continues to empower and not control. Share your observations and thoughts but resist telling them what to do.
7. Celebrate success and help staff learn from their experience. It may not be perfect but with time and coaching it will get better and better. The more experience your staff have in figuring things out the happier they will be and the better off you and the organization will be.