Organizations are shifting from the conventional authoritarian leadership model to more empowered workers. This transition requires a complete behavioral change from top to bottom of any organization.
Empowerment is not about taking your hands off to let employees sink or swim, it is an active process that involves teaching and coaching team members to be adaptive, to self-serve, to make decisions and to make them right without needing instructions or rubber stamp approvals.
To achieve this kind of empowerment, it is essential for leaders to lean-in and engage actively and effectively across teams, in addition to arranging coaching sessions.
Importance of Leaning in
Research has repeatedly demonstrated that workers’ empowerment associates with better job performance, job satisfaction, dedication, and commitment to the organization.
The importance of team’s empowerment was realized much before Covid-19, but the pandemic has reinforced the concept. The expansion of remote work demands much more empowered and learned team members today.
Empowering teams is crucial but more so is the engagement of leaders in the process. The absence of active engagement by leaders in the process of team empowerment may result in slow learning and performance issues.
It takes a lot of time to figure out problems at work and to come up with feasible solutions. Leaders should observe the process to validate, and when appropriate guide it in the right direction and at the right pace.
The approach of giving workers a free environment to work on their own terms, often translates as a feedback loop. Teams need a consistent communication system to work properly. They need to get the answers to certain changing situations. If they are not getting the right data to make educated decisions, they simply resort to past behaviors.
“Lack of open communication reflects a fear-based work environment, which is definitely not about empowerment.”
When leaders are actively engaged with teams, they feel well-accepted by the organization, and contribute with all their capabilities. This gives them a sense of gratification and higher self-worth. In turn workers feel more inclined towards mastering their responsibilities.
Most of all, with an involved leader, the team feels more connected to the organization and it also builds employees’ trust in the leader. They know that they have a guide, a mentor, an ambassador in a person who can sail through problems with them.
How to Actively Engage
Every person in any organization has a personalized set of skills and capabilities. Some are super polished, and some need some work. To get the best out of everyone’s skills, it is required to arrange coaching sessions for employees, to make them aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Such coaching sessions are based on individual training needs.
“True leaders get engaged with their teams to help them become more competent.”
Helping teams become more competent involves asking good questions that urge them to think through problems.
For instance, rather than asking for the boosted sales figures, it is better to ask, “How do you think we can help raise sales by 3% in the next quarter?”
This reflects a really different role by leaders in the empowerment process. Such active involvement helps to define and shape the problem together, resulting in a compatible situation to develop a solution.
It’s easier to get to an agreed and well-defined destination and achieve tangible goals, when there is a sense of “we are in this together”.
Team members should be given tasks that are a good match for their capabilities. If the problem faced by the members exceeds their abilities, anxiety prevails and learning stops. Most leaders end up assigning the project to the other members, but this is a mistake because it stagnates the learning process for the worker.
Similarly, allocating an easier project can have no empowering impact on team members. So, a leader should consider the capacities and abilities of everyone.
Additionally, to empower team members, it is crucial to provide them with tools and resources to resolve issues. For example, if you assign your team a task to research current market trends, they must be given access to the paid surveys, credible reports, and the organization’s data.
While giving feedback or debriefing on a project, try to be as constructive as possible. Telling a team member that they did a “good job” doesn’t disseminate any direction for what to continue in the future and what to avoid in upcoming projects.
“Leaders need to be specific about the actions, processes, and attitudes they need repeated or eliminated.”
To ensure the empowerment of teams in any organization, it is not enough to just give them free reign. Empowerment is a process in which a true leader works hand in hand with teams, but unnoticed. They are the ones who should motivate teams to figure out the solution to a problem that they may have given up on.
A leader’s job is to be actively involved in the process of empowering employees to find solutions on their own and seek to learn the skills needed to be effective in their roles.
“Empowerment is about the encouragement a leader provides teams to learn and grow to meet the needs of the organization, and as individuals.”