Did You Say What I think You Said!?
As a leader, you’ve probably heard lots of talk about empowering others. It’s a great concept, but when you get right down to it, there’s little evidence that it’s actually happening whenever it really is happening.
Even more important, there are times when the leader’s job is to, uh… y’know – LEAD. As a leader, you’re privy to a lot of facts and insights that your team just doesn’t have. Your job is to make judgment calls, and sometimes go against the grain. Sometimes your team may not understand why you’re making the calls you do.
The bottom line is that you need each other. The team needs the leader to point the way. The leader needs the team’s unique talents so that all of the various nuances of your collective project are handled thoroughly and efficiently. In order to get the team on board with your abundant wisdom, you’ll need to know when to coax and when to shove.
For all that, you’ll need to understand how you’re coming across to them. In other words, you’ll need to be sensitive to them and their perceptions.
Understanding how your actions influence the empowerment process will allow you to decide when coaxing is sufficient and when shoving is actually required. Combining these two ticklish prospects can often yield stellar results.
How To Be Sensitive Without Getting Stepped On
Empowering your workforce is not likely to happen all on its own. Everyone involved will need to apply some real effort. The result of this effort will create an environment where people have enough freedom and responsibility to act independently whenever they have to. At the same time, it should offer some firm guidelines, leaving room for your leadership.
A team that understands the rules has a better chance of winning the game. Their ability to do this comes through understanding your team’s needs and what’s required of them.
It means becoming sensitive to how they regard you. Your attitude towards their empowerment and your sensitivity to their perceptions will guide you. You’ll know just when it’s time to coax and when to shove.
Here’s an exercise you can do with your team, either as a group or in a one-on-one setting. It will help raise potentially difficult issues in a safe environment. You’ll emerge from it with a clear picture of how to proceed, what to keep, and which aspects of your style you need to improve.
The exercise highlights the aspects of your leadership style that are likely to enhance or limit your team’s ability to act independently. How much they can do on their own will have a direct impact on the degree of their empowerment as individuals within the team framework.
Start the session with a brief explanation of empowerment tailored to the your team’s unique circumstances. Either working in small groups or as individuals, ask your people to come up with answers to each of the following four questions. As an alternative, you can ask each person or group to answer just one of the questions in detail.
Here are the questions:
What do you need me to start doing as a leader? What do you need me to stop doing? What do you need me to do differently? What do you need me to do more of?
Asking for a succinct, honest appraisal will help people feel they are able to air their views without restrictions. Your team’s responses will play a key role in how you approach empowerment in the future, so let them know you’re listening.
Give them time to consider their answers, and be on hand to respond to any questions they may have about the process. Make it clear to your team that all feedback is extremely useful to you and, ultimately, to them too. Say clearly when you expect to get their answers. Make sure you follow up at the right time; be consistent.
Where Can You Apply What You’ve Learned?
Applying the lessons you’ve learned from this exercise will not only benefit your team, it will also show your degree of sensitivity as a leader. In other words, showing that you know how to coax makes you more effective when it comes time to shove. Reinforcing your sensitivity to the team’s needs and perceptions can actually build the team bond.
When you start this exercise with your group, explain that you will be writing up these suggestions and providing everyone with the results. Then deliver what you promise. Show them what the results are, and demonstrate how their feedback will be applied. Also, come up with some concrete ways that you’ll get their input in the near future.
If there are areas where your leadership needs to diverge from the group’s consensus, you can always try reverting to the ol’ tried and true: Talk. Communication is the key to understanding; and understanding is the key to gaining their support.
By opening up to your team, you stand to gain their understanding – and their sensitivity. With their trust and support, that makes you an empowered leader.