Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Empowerment is our key to success.

As a manager or leader (or parent for that matter), do we let our people / kids assume more responsibility when they are able? Do we know when that is, or do we keep telling ourselves that they aren't ready yet?

In today’s business world & from personal experience, there are thousands of people every year that want to be treated as "partners" rather than as employees. They want information to flow up as well as down. But, oftentimes, leaders do not want to give up control.

Recently we had a conversation with a CEO, who was the leader of one of the world's largest organizations, we discussed what it takes to be ‘successful’ as the business figurehead or what many would term ‘leader’. Our conversation was timely, as he had recently been reflecting on feedback he had received just over a year previous. Feedback from one of his executive managers suggesting that he was too stubborn and opinionated. From that exact feedback it dawned on him that he needed to do a better job of letting go & letting others make decisions with less focus on being right himself. He practiced this simple technique for one year: before speaking, he would take a breath and ask himself, "Is it worth it?" He learned that 50% of the time his comments may have been right on, but they weren't worth it. He quickly began focusing more on empowering & supporting others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions, and less on his own need to add value, be right, or come down on different decisions. He soon realized that holding people accountable is one thing but in that position he needed to work with his management team vs. against his team. And the result was 10 fold. His management team started working with him, listening more to the suggestions and feedback, and more importantly gained back the respect that they had originally appreciated. At the same time, they felt empowered (and supported) to take the lead on what essentially was required to take the organization to the next level. 

This might be an example of knowledge management in an organization but it’s a good example to be aware of as a leader. At the end of the day, as leaders, owners, or even parents, we want people to follow our lead versus work against our lead (i.e. rebel). For the most part, we need to believe that our employees (if trained well and held accountable along the way) understand their jobs. They know their tasks, roles, and functions within the organization, and it's time for us to let them do what they need to do to get the job done. It’s more holding them accountable to those tasks and roles versus thinking they don’t know or understand what needs to be done. But there is a critical point that is often missed - It isn't possible for a leader to "empower" someone to be accountable and make good decisions. People have to empower themselves. That’s the personal responsibility that they / we have to accept. Our role is to encourage and support the decision-making environment, and to give employees (or kids) the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions - of course within the confines of the business culture & systems. By doing this, we help our employees reach an empowered state. And that is the key to growth. 

The process does take long — employees (like children) will only believe they are empowered when they are left alone to accomplish results over a period of time — but it's effective and worth the time. If a company has a history of shutting down or letting go of initiators, for instance, the leader can't just tell employees, "You are empowered to make decisions."

Successful leaders and managers today are willing to exercise their leadership in such a way that their people are empowered to make decisions, share information, and try new things. Most employees (future leaders) see the value in finding empowerment and are willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it. If future leaders have the wisdom to learn from the experience of present leaders, and if present leaders have the wisdom to build an environment that empowers & supports the people, both will share in the benefits.

That is the business cycle. 

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