With companies competing for talent, employee development is a key strategy for attracting and retaining your workforce. Younger generations are seeking opportunities to grow and advance consistently, and if they don’t, they’ll find an organization who provides it.

Most managers I work with have this top of mind, and many are actively seeking strategies to develop and retain their top performers.

However, I think there is sometimes a disconnect between what managers are intending around development, and what employees are experiencing around their development.

So, let’s talk about empowerment as a development tool. It’s a common organizational strategy and an aspiration of many managers.

By definition, empowerment is authority or power given to someone to do something.

Power. The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.

Easy to define. Difficult to execute. Why?

Because empowerment means risk. Mistakes. Um….as managers isn’t it our job to mitigate risk and prevent mistakes? Empowerment also means giving up control. And most managers I know like control. Not because they’re controlling per se (though some admittedly are) but they want to achieve results. They want to meet the goals. And they see control as a way to accomplish this.

So, it takes a fair amount of courage and restraint not to jump in, support (aka save) someone from learning something important. From not “controlling the outcome.” And letting someone take a new approach (ACK, what if it doesn’t work, she ponders with a knitted brow?!) to achieve a goal.

And it is ironic that most of us learn significant lessons through our mistakes. Through our failures. Through the freedom given to take our own course, experiencing the highs and lows associated with our choices. It’s immensely motivating to have a manager who facilitates a discussion about our learnings both positive and not so positive. Who is there, non-judgmentally to support our growth.

I am absolutely not talking about setting someone up to fail. Or allowing a risk that will have significant consequences to a customer, the team or the organization. But I am talking about allowing someone to try and succeed their way. Which sometimes means not our way. And they may hit an obstacle or two. Make a wrong decision. Take a challenging path.

Because that what it means to give power. That is what it means to give up control.

So, lesson one around applying empowerment is the knowledge and the mindset that we have to also allow learning to occur.

A second connected lesson is that we need to be more intentional with our employees about using this strategy.  This means positioning, delegating work from a development perspective.

Again, many times, this is top of mind for us as a manager (e.g., being thoughtful about who to delegate to so that a particular employee can develop) but we miss an opportunity to tell our employees that directly.

Yesterday in class a manager had this very observation. She was delegating (empowering) one of her team members (who also tends to resist change) a new responsibility. She recounted the story and said that she was very intentional in positioning the assignment as a growth opportunity. That she had chosen this employee intentionally to provide an opportunity to learn. The reaction was super positive! And the (sometimes resistant) employee was excited to take on the new challenge.

It’s a beautiful example of a strategy consciously applied. This may sound common sense. But I assure you, it’s not common practice.

Examine your mindset, examine your actions. Answer the following, honestly:

  • In the past month, have you delegated to someone who didn’t know how to do the project/task? (meaning are you delegating as a form of growth, or are you delegating to your super stars?)
  • Do you “empower” i.e., give power to employees without controlling the outcome?
  • What is your honest reaction when an employee suggests an approach that may not be the same as the approach you would take (or have taken in the past)?
  • What are your thoughts and reactions when an employee takes a risk? makes a mistake?
  • Are you consciously letting your employee know that you are delegating something to them with the intention of fostering their growth and development?
  • What mindset shifts do you need to empower more consciously and effectively?

And last question…do you have the courage to empower? I’d love to know your thoughts and comments at cwentland@intentionaleaders.com