In my last post I defined empowerment. Now I’ll share my 3 favorite paths to creating empowerment.
1. Refuse to help. This seems so unleaderly. It’s almost cruel. When someone asks for help, you give it. But giving help can be a bad idea. If the help is for a decision or action that the person should be empowered to do on their own, then helping encourages them not to act in the future. In fact, not only shouldn’t you help, but you shouldn’t even talk about it with them.
When the question is raised tell them to leave immediately. Have them make the decision on their own and report back to you later what happened. Even speaking through it with them you are sending the message that they shouldn’t take these actions without checking with you first. Your refusal to help today, while possibly painful in the moment, will empower your employees for the future.
2. Reward BOLD behavior. Toward the end of my tenure in my last corporate job I saw something I didn’t like. I went to a member of senior management and expressed my concern. I was polite and respectful. The following day the powers that be told me that I was not to speak to senior management again. Message heard. Get in line. Do nothing you weren’t instructed to do.
Even if the behavior isn’t desirable, even if the outcome is problematic, if the intention is pure and the action reflects empowerment, reward, reward, reward. Praise it. Recognize it. Show the actor and everyone else that you don’t want people to simply do as they are told. You want bold, and you are prepared to reward it.
3. Ask for what you want. Fourth grade was the time when my elementary school got kids into playing instruments. My mother had me take the viola. (Not a great choice for a kid hoping to get beat up less.) My instructor told me how to hold the instrument, where to put my elbow, with which fingers to hold the bow. It was awkward at first, but it eventually became quite natural.
Anyone who has worked with a golf or tennis pro knows this feeling. They tell you to do something. You comply grudgingly and awkwardly. Then after practicing it for a few weeks it feels natural and has transformed your swing.
Empowerment is the same. It is a new behavior pattern. Ask for it specifically, even in a way that is bound to be awkward. “I’m looking today for someone to challenge me on one of my decisions.” “Tomorrow I’ll be on the lookout for someone making an important customer decision without escalating to me.” This may be uncomfortable to start. But eventually these uncomfortable initial steps will lead to people feeling naturally empowered to act.