10 Ideas for Empowering Leadership

Leadership is not a job, not a role one plays at work and then puts aside during the commute home in order to relax and enjoy real life. Rather, leadership is the leader's real life.

-    CHRIS LOWNEY, Heroic Leadership

Leadership flows from who you are and whether you realize it or not you are leading all the time.  Leadership is also more than implementing techniques to get people to perform the way you want them rather it inspires people to grow, it encourages those you lead to "own" the vision and goes a lot further to garner their hearts than just their backs!

Here are 10 empowering leadership ideas which will have a profound effect on your organization:

1) You set the tone. Be the change you wish to see.  Remember how dissatisfying it was when you were told by people of authority "Do what I say and not what I do"?  Your employees and team members are watching you and the way you conduct business, treat your customers and treat other employees.  The way you approach unexpected problems and conflict will have a significant impact on how your employees look at you, their job, each other and your customers. 
Cultivate healthy character within yourself and model it for your team.  Healthy character includes humility, courage, integrity, compassion, humor, passion and wisdom.  These are foundational for every leader who is seeking to be successful in meaningful and sustainable ways.

2) Share the Vision. Create a meaningful mission statement and a do-able value proposition.  Heard it before?  It has to be more empowering leadershipthan a framed picture hanging on your office wall.  Create a mission statement that is concrete and one which every leader will be encouraged to share by both word and example.  What as a company are we trying to accomplish?  What values will we maintain in pursuit of our vision?  Why is it important and how is each member important to achieving that vision?  Then tell your team why they are important, why the goals are important, why the values are important.  Then model it.  Keep modeling it.

3) Reward the right things. This is a common challenge in many organizations.   For example, they value cooperation and teamwork, but poor bonus/incentive programs effectively breed unhealthy internal competition, jealousy, and politics.  Teamwork and cooperation are truly important to be innovative, so we need to make sure we are rewarding the right kinds of performance.  We need to recognize the contributions of the employee and at the same time the support team around them by developing an incentive program in which employees also benefit when "we" all win.
Looking to reward increased sales and improve customer service?  Consider employee evaluation that quantifies customer service effort as a part of an incentive package.

4) Communicate. Don't wait for an annual review to provide constructive feedback for your team members. Feedback can be a useful tool for improving performance and creating/maintaining healthy empowering organizational culture. A Harvard study discussing the role of feedback for undergrad students found not only did students use the feedback to improve their performance in the future, but they also began to understand the instructor's expectations, methodology, self-evaluate their performance and adjust, and providing a more satisfying experience.*

If there is an issue, provide feedback in a way that is constructive.  Likewise, if someone is doing something well offer feedback as well - let's face it who doesn't like to hear they're doing a good job!  In a sense, we are coaching those we lead, and as we work to develop our own skills and character, we can facilitate similar development with those we lead.

5) Be Accessible. Being accessible is not just being available but being truly present when talking with your team member.  What does this mean?  Focus your attention on the person you are talking with.  Listen to what they are saying and how they are saying it.  Observe body language and allow that to influence the kinds of questions you as.  Ask questions and offer thoughtful feedback and counsel.

6) Clear Expectation and Goals.

A youngster on a Basketball team I coach has lots of skill and athletic ability.  The first play at the start of the second half, he received the ball and with grace, finesse, superior ball handling skills and sheer mojo he drove to the net climaxing with a two-point play that would make any hi-light reel!  The problem was; he scored on the wrong basket!  You can have the most talented and skilled personnel but without clear, thoughtful and communicated goals you aren’t going to harness your talent, and you will miss the target!

Take the time to formulate your goals and objectives.  Make sure they are consistent with a well thought out mission statement and organizational values.  Create and look for opportunities to clearly and regularly remind your team.  Help them focus on your goals.

7) Clear Boundaries.  Machiavelli said it is better to be feared than loved, but many have found this to be an ineffective method of leading people.  Equally as ineffective is the manager, who is all “bubble-gum and gum-drops, spreading rainbows everywhere they go."  But somewhere between the two ditches is an effective manager who is empowering and encouraging, but also provides healthy accountability and necessary remedial correction to not only achieve organizational goals but develop the potential of the individual team members. Healthy EQ (emotional quotient) will help you find this balance in yourself and develop healthy boundaries.  Being aware of what needs you need to be met, and healthy and appropriate ways of meeting them will help shape those boundaries.   If you need to be “liked” by your team more than help them be great, they will never be great.  If you fear being rejected or failing and, as a result, are harsh- you may get your employees backs but never their hearts!  This will never facilitate peak performance or innovation or creativity.

8.) Delegate.   You can’t do it all; you only have so many hands, hours in the day, and skill set.  It is important to release control of some activities to qualified others.  Micro-managing is a sure fire way to destroy any chance of creativity and innovation, and competency development in your team.  This will lead to reduced employee retention, employee satisfaction, efficiency and reducing your personal resources to develop new business. Delegation is not abdication!  Delegation doesn’t mean that you become completely disinterested.   It is important to maintain balanced and regular contact with your team via appropriate direct contact, progress reports, and team meetings.  Be involved, be present but not in the way.  Let your people do the job you hired them to do!

9) Empower people to take Smart Risks.  Fear of failing is a prevalent stifling pandemic in western culture.   The fear of failing paralyzes people’s ability to be innovative and creative, and this hurts every organization.  Examine how risk is managed in your organization.  Is the culture of fear - fear of losing your job, credibility, of becoming fodder for the organization's gossip circle?  Your organizational culture can be re-tooled by you as you affirm, reward and model smart risk-taking.  In the event the risk doesn’t work out, have a constructive discussion about the circumstances, remaining positive and encourage your team to keep thinking, dreaming and sharing ideas.

10) Use Failure as an opportunity.  So the risk your employee took didn’t work out.  It happens and yes, while it costs money, time and a bit embarrassing you can leverage this experience of failure into a powerful learning experience.   By doing a “post-mortem,” you can examine the risk from hindsight - not for an “I told you so” but to glean what could be done differently next time.  Are there any questions that perhaps should have been asked but weren’t?  Was there an overestimation of resources/strengths?  Did we discover a weakness we didn’t realize we had?  These and any number of other questions can serve to empower us, equip us and inspire us to take better risks in the future and yes while failure can be costly it provides valuable lessons that all involved will remember for years to come.


* endnotes Harvard Writing Project Bulletin, Special Issue.  The Harvard Writing Project, an initiative of Expository Writing, works with faculty and Teaching Fellows throughout Harvard College to develop effective ways of responding to student writing.

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