Empowering leadership is quite the buzzword these days, but it can make a real difference to the people in your team.
Taking empowering leadership actions can have your people feeling more valued, motivated and enthusiastic when you do it well.
In this post, I’m going to take a look at five deceptively simple empowering leadership actions you can try out in your team.
They may seem like easy actions to take, but sometimes they’re harder than they look!
What Does Empowering Leadership Look Like?
Empowering your team is all about providing your people with the power, autonomy and authority to take action.
Instead of relying on you for everything, they can begin to forge their own path. This might mean making a decision, leading an initiative or resolving a conflict.
The key is that instead of getting in the way, an empowering leader steps back.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you stop paying attention. It may instead mean that you are more intentional about when you involve yourself, and where you might adopt a more hands-off stance.
Learn More: Moving From Doer to Leader: The Top Challenges.
Why Is Empowering Leadership Difficult?
Some leaders naturally empower their people, but it isn’t always easy to do.
There are a few reasons why you might find it difficult to empower people in your team:
- Lack of capability: If you don’t believe your people have the skills, experience or confidence to step up, you may be hesitant to try to empower them.
- Unmotivated team members: If you lead people who don’t feel comfortable or motivated to take proactive action, then it can feel like a struggle to empower them.
- Fear of failure: Leaders who are worried about mistakes may choose to take tighter control, rather than adopt an empowering leadership approach.
- Insecurity: Insecure leaders may feel threatened by team members who are highly skilled and capable. This may encourage them not to empower their people.
These can be significant barriers for some leaders, but there are strong benefits that can occur when leaders take an empowering approach with their team.
Learn More: Are You an Insecure Leader? Watch for These 10 Signs.
The Benefits of Empowering Leadership
Empowering leadership can have a number of important benefits for both leaders, and the people they lead.
Firstly, team members who are empowered tend to feel like more valued members of the team. Empowerment generally means providing people with a higher degree of responsibility and autonomy, and this tends to show that the leader trusts the team member to deliver.
Team members who feel empowered may also feel more motivated to put in greater effort, or pay extra attention to the quality of their work. The extra responsibility can help them realise that the quality of the work is “up to me, so I’d better do a good job”.
Empowering leadership can also build confidence. The fact that the empowering leader appears to believe in the capability of the team member can have them feeling more capable themselves.
Lastly, if the empowering opportunity happens to be something that will stretch the team member, they may also grow in skill and experience. This may also have the benefit of propelling them further on their career journey.
In my view, these are some compelling benefits!
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #172: Team Member Lacking Confidence? Here’s How to Lead Them.
Empowering Leadership Actions You Can Take
Now, let’s get to the practical actions you can take to empower your team. Some of these are small, while others are a little more involved.
Starting small might help you to try out an empowering approach with your team members, to make sure they’re up for it!
1. Ask a Team Member to Represent You
Leaders are often required to attend meetings with more senior leaders or their peers to report on progress, develop strategies or to review performance.
Why not let one of your team members represent you in one of these sessions?
This can be a powerful show of trust, to have your team member representing you at a high-level meeting or other forum. Even better, it lets you do something else instead!
Of course, if you do this all the time, it may give the impression that you’re simply avoiding the situation.
However, if you do this selectively when you are otherwise engaged, absent or double-booked, it can be a good opportunity for a team member to associate with senior leaders when they normally wouldn’t get the chance.
When you do, take some time to help them prepare, and inform the other people at the meeting of the arrangement. This can help to eliminate awkwardness if others aren’t aware that your team member will be attending.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #74: Want a More Proactive Team? Try These Things.
2. Don’t Review That Deliverable
Sometimes empowering leadership is about not taking action.
In this case, it’s about not being the one who does the final review before a deliverable is published or sent out into the world.
This means it’s on your team member to make sure it’s good before it goes out.
It’s important that you let the team member know that you’re going to do this beforehand, otherwise they could get a nasty surprise when they find out it’s all up to them.
Once again, this can be a strong display of trust, free up some of your time, and let your team member step up in terms of their level of oversight and responsibility.
Learn More: 4 Ways Leaders Damage Accountability in the Workplace.
3. Have Your Team Member Run Their Own Improvement Initiative
Motivated team members often like to make suggestions about how the team could improve.
This is a great thing, but often it falls to the leader to select the improvement idea and then implement it within the team.
Instead, try endorsing the improvement idea of your team member, and let them manage its implementation.
This gives them more accountability, allowing them to take ownership of having the improvement successfully embedded within the team.
At the end, you have an empowered team member, with something extra they can add to their CV for an additional career boost.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #112: Why Smart Leaders Seek Continuous Improvement.
4. Show Empowering Leadership By Asking Your Team Member What They Would Do
It’s good to have a variety of fresh ideas in a team.
Some of the freshest come from the members of the team itself, rather than the leader telling everyone what’s going to happen all the time.
When it comes to decision-making, it can also be helpful to find out what your team members think. That doesn’t mean you need to let them run the whole show, but taking their input is a nice step.
Asking your team members what they would do in a given situation can have a few useful effects. This approach can help you to:
- Gather more ideas!
- Provide team members with an appreciation of the factors leaders need to consider (and the potential difficulties) when making decisions that may impact the team; and
- Show trust in your team members by choosing to make the decision directly based on their input.
Naturally, if your team member says they would “throw the laptop out the window” or “tell the CEO to go jump in the lake”, then you may not want to use that particular input.
But often, you’ll be able to gain great insights from what your team members share, and you may even decide to follow their lead.
Learn More: 5 Questions Confident Leaders Ask.
5. Delegate a Key Leadership Responsibility
We all know by now that delegation can be empowering, and can help our people grow their skills and confidence.
However, many leaders delegate trivial or insignificant tasks.
While this can reduce your own workload, it doesn’t do much for team morale or motivation.
This one overlaps a little with #3, but instead of choosing a project, think about the potential to delegate one of your ongoing leadership responsibilities. This once again shows trust and confidence, and also helps your team member build their own leadership skills.
It also allows team members to obtain a preview of what it’s like to act in the leadership role.
The task could be some sort of significant report, managing a key stakeholder relationship or perhaps having your team member resolve a conflict with an important customer.
It’s important to use your judgement to decide what might be appropriate, but be sure to make it significant enough so that your team member knows it really matters.
Learn More: How to Delegate Work to Improve Your Team.
Empowering Leadership Takes Confidence, But Can Make a Real Difference
Taking an empowering leadership approach can be daunting. Sometimes, the fear of needing to be seen as “the boss” can hold us back from empowering our people.
After all, there’s risk involved in stepping back and letting your people step forward.
However, without some degree of risk, there is often very little reward!
What sort of measured risk might you take to empower your people?
What empowering leadership actions have you taken with your team? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
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