In our last post, we began exploring the concept of empowering others, a foundation of effective leadership. Sound leadership is a hallmark of successful businesses, and at the core of this leadership is an ethos built around optimizing high-performance teams.
We outlined some of the pitfalls of managers who fail in their efforts to empower others, such as not understanding the strengths and contributions of those who work on their teams, micromanaging projects, failure to spread mission-critical and enjoyable work in an inclusive way, and perhaps most important to the empowerment equation, failing to share the credit when the team achieves wins and successes.
This week, we’ll lay out some examples of foundational, positive behaviors that separate great leaders from the pack via the concept of empowering others to achieve excellence.
Delegating Decision-Making Ability, Not Just Tasks to Perform
The notion of power itself centers on having the ability to set a professional course for yourself and others through the power of decision-making. Much ingrained in our society is the idea that when we rise through promotion to a position of leadership, we acquire an earned power of decision-making. Thus, it’s hard for us, sometimes, to share responsibilities and decision-making with others who have not earned this distinction.
But in today’s modern business environment, where success is largely predicated on high-performing teams, we must be willing to shake this old paradigm and share our power with those on our teams. While managers can’t delegate their authority in many matters, such as hiring/firing and disciplinary situations, they can push decision-making ability down to the lowest optimal levels that make sense.
By lowest optimal levels, we mean that if you have a subject-matter expert on your team, you should delegate the decisions that fit within the wheelhouse of their professional expertise and perspective. Having the ability to make these decisions empowers that person beyond just giving highly-respected counsel, and they tend to rise to an even higher degree of greatness when they feel responsible and accountable for making the call for the team.
Encouraging Others to Resolve Problems versus Following Prescribed Solutions
Conflict and disagreements are natural problems that arise as people work together. People come to shared work with many different sets of perspectives, strengths, weaknesses, and interests, and as workdays or projects play out, these differences will inevitably lead to both constructive and destructive conflict.
Managers often are too quick to pull the trigger when a conflict exists. As the leader of the group, they naturally feel it’s their responsibility to resolve conflict and to maintain positive working relationships. They are judge and jury for their teams, and they prescribe a solution when different team members are at odds over a business matter or a clash of personal styles. Rather than making a decision in favor of one side or the other, or even forging a compromise, managers should lead their employees to resolve their differences with each other without intervention. The role of the manager becomes that of a coach or advisor, seeking to build up the parties in a way that enables them to better understand each other and reach resolution quickly.
When executed properly, the result is much greater than simply getting everyone to follow a prescribed solution that often reaches the lowest common denominator. When people solve their issues without intervention from above, they tend to buy in to the resolution more quickly and actually use it as a form of empowerment, yet another way to make decisions and have greater control over their own destinies.
Creating an Open Environment for Questioning Established Norms
To effectively empower their people, leaders must create an environment of openness. Having an open-door policy for employees seeking feedback is a minimum requirement in today’s business climate. However, having this minimum requirement does not empower employees. To empower others to achieve excellence, leaders must fearlessly open the gates of understanding by removing any barriers to openness, even if that means an employee needs to question established work processes and systems.
Nobody wants to hear “that’s the way we’ve always done it, so stick to it.” Businesses grow and achieve greater heights of success when they innovate. No company has changed for the better without having an empowered employee taking on the behaviors of leadership and daring self and others to question the status quo.
We’re not advocating a culture of complaints, blame and excuses, but rather a culture of feedback and continuous improvement, where leaders and employees seek out and welcome feedback. The point is that people need to be able to question the norm when they see fit. Leaders should welcome these questions and reasons for questioning without any detriment, perceived or real, to the questioner. A great mindset to adopt is that when someone questions your team’s way of doing things, they are doing it because they want the team to achieve more.
Allowing Teams to Set Goals Consistent with Those of the Organization
We have seen many examples of how leaders empower their people, and some of the most successful organizations even delegate goal-setting to their respective teams. In this framework, leadership and senior levels set the course based on the interests and expectations of various stakeholders, especially owners and customers. Everyone wants to grow, but these goals are typically tempered by an executive view that defines sustainable, manageable growth.
The role of managers in these types of organizations becomes that of a facilitator, as they advise their teams on factors to consider when setting their individual and team performance goals, ensuring that these sub-sets of goals within the company align with those of the organization. Again, something special happens when people are given guidance and allowed to set their own course within a guided framework—they become much more highly engaged and productive and they do it with efficiency.
Instead of spending time setting and communicating goals in a top-down approach and then watching and waiting as individuals and teams reach buy-in stage, shift gears and have the buy-in stage early as individuals and teams create these goals in a bottom-up approach.