How to Empower Your Team

    Management and empowerment are not created equal.

    Empowerment is a process that doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time, patience and effort. Leaders have responsibility to create an environment where their people are empowered to do their best work.

    However, many managers are afraid to trust in their teams’ talents. They fear that if they give up control, they’ll lose power. The Empowerment Shift is a method for leaders to transform their mindset and empower their teams to take on more responsibility.

    Empowerment is not just about handing over a set of tasks or responsibilities to team members. It’s about creating a culture where people feel valued and empowered to take on more responsibilities as part of the team.

    Empowerment is about giving people the clarity, autonomy, and authority to do their jobs.

    Leadership is about getting people to want to follow you. Management is forcing people to.

    The key difference is that empowerment involves giving people the tools and resources they need to succeed. Management involves persuading others that your vision or direction is worth following.


    How Effective Managers Empower 

    I want to take an example here from a 2017 article written by Joseph Folkman for Forbes.

    “Recently I was sitting at a restaurant when I caught myself watching waiters stepping over a plate of food that had been spilled on the floor. They went on tiptoeing around the mess for more than 10 minutes before the manager of the restaurant came out with a mop and bucket to clean up. I am certain that cleaning the floors is not part of the restaurant manager's job description.”

    Do you ever feel frustrated that your team can't seem to act like "responsible adults"? They focus on their part of the job, but rarely identify the work around the edges. They want to do their job and move on.

    Having employees who feel accountable and empowered, allows them to think outside the box, strategically plan ahead with contingencies to hit deadlines, as well as discover novel solutions to old problems. This creates a much more open and productive workplace.

    Three Steps to Empower Your Team

    1. Avoid Micromanaging 

    A micromanager is likely to stress about small details, carefully analyzing every piece of work. They like to be copied in on emails, and never seem happy with what their team produces.

    It is difficult to break the habit of micromanaging. A manager might not notice their own tendencies. This is a problem.

    Team members will be much happier when their manager isn’t keeping close tabs on them and, instead, allows them more freedom to work. But what can HR do to give managers the skills to provide team members the space they need to succeed and learn?

    The first step is for managers to reflect on their behavior: to develop an awareness of why they micromanage. Often, there’s a significant disconnect between what leaders intend and what the team is actually experiencing. So getting feedback is really important. This can be a sobering exercise, but without awareness – and more importantly, self-awareness - there can be no change.

    2. Have Trust in Employees

    When managers trust employees, this frees them up to lead. It can be hard at first to let go, but understanding the importance of letting team members test, fail, and learn, is part of the process. A micromanager will hate this. Mistakes are the validation of their approach.

    But the trick is to allow employees to own their mistakes, worry about them, and make sure they don’t happen again. Making sure team members know that their manager trusts them and has faith in their abilities is actually straightforward. Managers firstly must ensure the team have the tools they need to do the job, that they understand the task - and then they simply need to tell the team that they're empowered, to say, “I trust you” - and then do it.

    When DX’s marketing agency, BH&P, started working with us, a new Account Executive had been tasked with sending out a DX email to a long list of valued customers and highly engaged sales contacts. This was the first email she’d sent for us but had been trained in sending emails for other smaller clients.

    The Account Executive asked her manager several times to check the email before it was sent. The manager responded,

    “Are you confident you know all the things you need to check before the email is sent”. She confirmed she did know these things.

    “And have you done those things?” She nodded.

    “So is the email ready to go?” She nodded again.

    “Then I don’t need to see it. I’m happy for you to send it out”.

    The junior waited another hour before sending – and checked everything again – possibly more than once. But the email was sent, and it was perfect. She never needed to ask again.

    3. Giving Freedom But Being There for Advice 

    When managers are freed up from micromanaging, they have time to mentor, coach, and lift their team up. As well as embedding better working practices and teaching new skills, they have time to reflect, to observe, and nurture talent – as well as spotting things like burnout – much earlier.

    Bosses that have time for their employees can give them freedom, but also be there for advice. Different people will need different amounts and types of support – regardless of the level they're working at. Some people relish a mental challenge, whilst others prefer the hustle of juggling many smaller projects, to tight deadlines. Empowering employees allows them to find out what type of worker they are and play to their strengths. This allows leaders to take advantage of their strengths and passions.

    This is about creating equity, giving everyone a chance to succeed, rather than treating everyone equally. You can read more about equity vs equality, and why we believe this is so fundamental to great leadership, in this article.

    Delegating or Empowering? 

    Delegation and empowerment are not the same thing. For example, if a manager consistently gives direct assignments that offer little opportunity to grow, then they’re delegating – but not empowering.

    As a rule, it’s far better to empower people first, and then delegate. In this way, managers are not only delegating tasks, they are delegating responsibility and ownership.

    The simple way to think about this is in terms of head space. If leaders still need to think about all the small details of the task list, even once it’s handed over, then they've probably delegated, but not empowered.

    The moment the leader’s brain space is freed up from worrying about details, they can concentrate on the big picture, and on creating a workspace where their team feel valued, and have space to grow in a way that works for them.

    Empower Employees and Build Trust

    Stepping back, and demonstrating trust in a team through their actions, is fundamental to empowering employees. Here’s a quick checklist for managers that need to make a change.

    1. Encourage Open Communication 
    2. Mentoring Team Members
    3. Giving Recognition and Positive Feedback
    4. Asking for Ideas and Insights

    It takes time, energy, and effort to empower team members, especially at the start.

    Giving problems back to people for them to solve can be challenging. Managers need to be confident that the person they plan to empower has both the desire and ability to find a solution. However, investing the time and resources to empower teams, frees managers up to become leaders themselves.

    Learn more about the Empowerment Shift for leaders to release control and transform their mindset to empower their teams to take on more responsibility.

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