Recognizing that there are practices to empowering both ourselves and others is sometimes surprising. You mean there’s a strategy to it? Most managers say they want to empower others (well, we know that is what we are supposed to say), but do we in practice? Do you give power? Ah the many questions associated with empowerment. Why does leadership have to be so freakin’ complicated?
This is important to figure out. In fact, Timothy R. Clark just published his research that supports the critical nature of empowerment to fostering creativity and innovation in organizations. His 4 stages of Psychological Safety are: 1. Inclusion, do people feel they belong? 2. Learner, are they able to learn and make mistakes? 3. Contributor, are they able to and have the freedom to do their jobs? and 4. Challenger, are they able to challenge the status quo?
If you want to empower others, start with you. Empowering ourselves is about controlling our own lives. Claiming our rights. Focusing on what we can do versus what we can’t. Considering what is possible, versus impossible. It is about considering our beliefs about our power. How much we have and when. Or alternatively, when, or why we don’t. This is connected to assertiveness, which we explored Podcast Episode 11.
How you feel about rights, yours and others affects how much you use empowerment as a strategy and practice. If you want to do more of it, but are worried about the results, focus on the environment you create. Create an environment conducive to empowerment.
Here are 5 practices to do that:
- Share Liberally and Transparently: And no, I don’t mean tell everyone everything. But the more context (meaning information, perspective) those around you have, the more effective they will likely be. Because if you are empowering, you are trusting, and better to trust someone who has relevant, up to date and complete information. Clear communication is vital. In addition to clarity, there is quality and transparency that adds value to your team or those around you. This is often not a deliberate action to withhold information, rather a “Oh I didn’t think of that,” or “Remember to tell you” type of situation. Make a practice of establishing the platform and processes to share information with your team.
- Listen Constantly and Openly: Listening is an active, deliberate action. When empowering others, your role is to listen to what they say and don’t say. But say with their body language. Which makes up over half of our communication. By being an active, engaged, and open listener—we create the opportunity to hear and truly consider new ideas, barriers, as well as the hopes and dreams of those around us. Often this communication is nuanced, it could be indirect. It might be someone who is not confident to tell you directly what they want or need. Your job is to figure that out…to create a dialogue. Only then can you truly empower (and trust) and set that individual up for success. You want them to take the power provided and use it confidently, effectively. And this takes conversation.
- Promote Active, Continuous Learning and Growth: Giving others power to make decisions, take action, and get good results rests on confidence and competence. As expectations continue to ramp up organizationally (or are yours lowering? so doubtful right? do more with less!), we need continuous growth to meet new and challenging demands. Make active learning a part of your priorities, focus and expectations. Learning can happen in so many ways. You can foster growth and accountability by keeping your team focused on the knowledge and skills to keep them aligned to their goals and the organizations goals.
- “Celebrate” Mistakes: Yeah, not, “Yippee, you really screwed that up Bobbie! Good job!” Rather, allow learning to occur when a mistake happens. And for heaven’s sake, when someone makes a mistake, TELL THEM! I know it sounds weird, but there are many managers I know (me included hahaa) that would rather correct a mistake someone has made (“It’s easier” they say), rather than tell them. So. They. Can. Learn. Share your mistakes as well (ack vulnerability again!). This goes a long way to building trust. And to show others around you that you are learning, growing, and taking risks. They can too.
- Praise Effort: Meaning, reinforce the behaviors you see that are “growth” oriented (we explored this in Podcast Episode 4). This practice is particularly important with those who are not as confident or experienced as others. Example: “Great job presenting at the staff meeting.” (an outcome) versus “Great job in trying some new ways to engage the team at the staff training, it made a big difference with the participation of the team!” (new efforts)
Empowerment is a strategy and a practice. It gives you the time to focus on more strategic value added responsibilities. It give those you work with the opportunity for growth and development, for autonomy-which is a significant motivator and contributor to engagement. And it builds trust. Empowerment doesn’t mean we achieve successful results 100% of the time. It means we achieve more knowledge, insight and power—in the experience.
Are you strong enough to empower?