A key element of being a strong leader is empowering your staff to make decisions using their reasoning skills as well as reflecting on outcomes from previous decisions. As a leader it’s important to take on the responsibility of using your coaching and communication skills to work with your staff which will help them reach new personal and professional levels. We’re going to look at a few different ways in which some of these concepts can be applied to leadership in the workplace, and how different approaches can produce varying outcomes.
Why Empowerment is Vital to Personal Growth
To empower your staff is to allow them to make decisions and learn from the consequences, no matter if they’re positive or negative. As it’s been discussed for many years in leadership and management of people, learning from and reflecting on experiences and outcomes is one of the greatest tactics for personal and professional growth. Another important aspect of this is when we look at successful organizations, teams, and leaders, in which much of the time their employees are provided the opportunity to be creative, make their own decisions, and not have to worry about making a decision that will require disciplinary action or cost them their job. While there are improperly made decisions that may warrant the discipline or dismissal of an employee, most are opportunities for coaching individuals to reflect on these choices and understand where they maybe could’ve made other decisions that provide a positive outcome. Many times, the coaching process doesn’t involve telling the employee what they must do and what is right but getting them to find the answer or the next step. This is where trust and support are vital to the role of the leader and the staff, as those that’re willing to have these conversations are in the position of growing together and building an unstoppable and collaborative team. I’m going to give an example here of how this can apply, followed by an example of what happens when we don’t empower our staff.
Example 1: Empower Your Staff
Say you have a project for an employee as well as a set deadline, and you ask them if they feel they can get the project completed by the deadline, you will get a variety of answers. But if you follow that conversation by also letting the employee know they can come to you if they have problems or constraints, or need some guidance or training, you’re probably moving in the direction of getting a “Yes, I can do that!” Next, let’s say the employee completes the project by the deadline, but maybe it isn’t completed to the standard as set forth in the beginning. Also, you noticed that there’s some very creative work and problem-solving going on that’s a talent of this employee. Sit down and discuss the outcome of the project, highlight the areas in which maybe they struggled, and let them know where you’re seeing strengths of theirs that they should apply on future projects. Ask the employee if there was anything you could’ve done differently as well in your role as a leader that may’ve helped them take a different direction on the aspects of the project in which didn’t meet the expectations. It’s important to gather feedback from everyone involved, not just from the leader.
Example 2: Not Empowering Your Staff
Now, let’s say you’re telling the employee about the project they must complete by the deadline, and you tell them what needs to be done and by when. Then, you begin telling them how they need to get it done, step by step, leaving little to no room for creativity or self-directed decision-making. Also, maybe you tell them they can come to you if they have problems, or maybe you choose not to. Even if you offer some support, you will probably get a reluctant yes, and if you’re paying attention, you may gain some insight from non-verbal communication behaviors. Now, following this project you notice there’s some areas in which the employee struggled, and the work maybe isn’t completed as you expected. Being the leader that you are in this scenario, you tell the employee that the work needs to be corrected, and that they didn’t follow your directives.
Now, the Outcomes
Reflecting on the two scenarios, you have the leader in the first example that not only set direction for the project but let them know you’re there to support them along the way. You also highlighted where maybe there’s some room for improvement in the project, but you highlighted things they did well and qualities of themselves as an individual that they will use to complete future assignments. The key to this scenario is that the employee was empowered through trust and knowing that the leader would support them throughout the project, as well as moving forward on future assignments. The employee wasn’t told how to get the project done which leaves room for using their reasoning and critical decision-making skills, which will only help them grow and learn from their experiences.
In the second scenario, the employee is left feeling alone throughout the project, as well as feeling like it may be a disruption if they ask their leader for support or training throughout the process. Then we get to the outcome of the project in which they’re only told the negatives, and this leaves them not only feeling like they failed, but it stirs up more emotions. They had the project directed to them, as well as being told how they needed to get it done, and it still wasn’t done properly. This leaves the employee feeling dissatisfied, unproductive, unsuccessful, and it also makes them resent their leader and the organization as they don’t feel they have the trust and support they need to do a good job. Lastly, it leaves no room for creativity or building their skills in reasoning due to the lack of decision-making capabilities.
As we compare the two scenarios and the outcomes, the empowerment example we see more positivity, constructiveness, and reflection to allow employees to feel like they can move forward and make a positive difference in their role and the organization. In the second example, the employee feels let down, unproductive, and unsupported, which negatively influences all involved parties. When leading others, you must carefully consider how your interactions not only affect the individual, but then how they affect the manner in which that employee interacts with other employees, clients, vendors, or even their families. Everything you do sets the tone for how an individual carries the weight of emotions throughout every aspect of their lives.
Tips in Empowering Your Staff
To close out this topic, here are some great tips to get you moving in the direction in not only empowering your staff, but showing you support them, and you care about building trust in each other.
- Don’t always tell others how to do things, but let them know the end goal and offer guidance and support if needed
- Offer your openness to listening to their concerns, constraints, or successes
- Identify the strengths of others, and build upon them collaboratively
- Coach and guide on areas for improvement, and use reflection and communication as tools to overcome
- Take the time to properly reflect on consequences with others, and brainstorm in a creative manner to generate new ideas
- Let decisions happen, but step in before a costly decision is made
- Care about the people you work with, genuinely, and not just for your satisfaction
- Know that all decisions you make impact more than just one individual, it impacts everyone that this individual communicates with
At the end of the day, the approach you take to empower your staff will have lasting results, and you must consider this in everything you do.