Generally speaking, someone who is empowered has power and control over their life. In a work environment, someone who is empowered has agency to influence outcomes—as appropriate to his or her role, of course.
I strongly believe that empowered employees consistently outperform those who are micromanaged or insufficiently managed. Empowered workers have agency or authority, resources, information, and accountability. As a leader, establishing rhythms of thoughtfulness and setting clear boundaries are keys to success here.
Employees who have been given the authority to make decisions within clear guidelines need less intervention or prompting to do a job correctly. There are three ways to make this happen:
- Set clear expectations of what the outcome does and doesn’t look like.
- Define levels of delegation with the final decision-making process outlined.
- Believe, as leadership, that competent people who are well-able to perform the job assigned to them have been hired.
If you are a leader struggling with team members not performing to your standards, you must ask yourself if you were clear in your instructions or expectations. Then ask your teammate, “Where do you still need clarity?” If you assume that they understand, you might both end up frustrated. If you assume they can’t read your mind, establishing open communication where clarifying questions are welcomed is a formula for increased successes.
Physical resources, such as tools, software, or even a healthy work environment are critical to success. In the same way, access to training and senior leadership helps any growth-minded employee improve his or her mindset, knowledge, and problem-solving capabilities. To ensure people make the most of their resources, it’s important to educate them on what’s available.
I frequently tell young moms about the free flights available for kids through the EAA’s Young Eagle program. The program has provided more than 2,000,000 flights at no cost to kids who might be interested in flying. That resource has yielded more new aviators than any other. It’s a resource that produces great outcomes—but people have to know about it. The same holds true in a work environment.
On a recent leadership podcast Craig Groschel shifted my thinking on trust. He said in his organization, trust is freely given, distrust is earned. If you’ve done your due diligence in bringing someone on to your team, you should trust them with the information they need to do their job. Give them the numbers, if that will make a difference in their understanding or performance. Share your vision. The more information a key team member has for a particular initiative, the more perspective they can bring to any potential solution.
Every time I think about this, I am reminded of the scene in The Princess Bride when the three unlikely friends are preparing to storm the castle, and Wesley says, “What I wouldn’t give for a holocaust cloak.” The presence of that black piece of fabric had not been revealed—and it was instrumental in creating the necessary distraction for a successful operation.
This is the key area where empowerment goes wrong. Leaders must be held accountable to how they do or do not empower their team members. Creating an atmosphere of feedback makes this possible. There are a number of indicators that reveal if an accountability process is working:
- There is discipline to see results through.
- New opportunities are created to address areas where growth is needed.
- Key projects are on track.
Accountability helps each party identify and eliminate areas where power could be abused by setting clear expectations, checks and balances, or boundaries.
Empowering leadership generally sees improved employee engagement, better overall team performance, less turnover, and lower managerial stress. What can you do to empower someone today?