The first step towards empowering your people begins with you.
First, you have to exhibit the behaviour that shows your team that you believe in, and are committed to, their increased participation in the decision-making process.
For leaders who have been used to performing all the organizational work themselves, this is a tough behavioral shift to make. The process of sharing the planning, scheduling, task assignment, etc., can be painful for leaders who have previously prided themselves on their solo performance in these areas. The key to altering your attitude is to view the changes as a way to develop your role and not as sacrificing your authority.
Your people skills will be stretched as never before, your creative processes will be accelerated as you learn to develop and encourage the ideas of others. Additionally, your calibre as a trainer and coach will be tested as you blend the individual human elements into a cohesive whole.
However, if you are questioning your ability or desire to empower your people, here is an overview of areas to consider to ease your way into this evolving role:
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Ego. A team that believes that the ultimate solutions to problems and the most important assessment of their performance flow from their ultra-confident leader will find it difficult to begin relying on their own strengths. You cannot allow your ego to restrict your people’s abilities.
Behaviour. Don’t just talk about empowerment. You have to show your people, by your actions, that you are committed to their development.
Restrain yourself from micro-managing, intruding when you are not needed (nor wanted) and over-monitoring their progress. The early part of the empowerment learning curve can be painful, but true growth always involves some pain.
Attitude. Don’t position yourself in competition with the team. If they suggest doing something differently from how you would have proceeded, don’t take it as an attack on your abilities. Suppress such defensiveness. If this proves impossible, stay silent until you can consider the idea calmly and objectively.
Feedback. If you thought feedback was important before empowerment, now it is crucial. Now, feedback should be as frequent as possible – between you and your team and, just as importantly, between team members. You have to get them talking to each other – exchanging ideas, sharing praise and learning how to dispense constructive criticism.
Conflict. If a problem arises, or if there is work-related friction, you – as well as your team – must concentrate on the “why” not the “who.” Teach them, through your example, that the sole objective is to progress towards the goal, not to detour into assigning blame or personal agendas.
To do this you have to have your priorities crystallized and have shared them with the team. They, as well as you, must elevate their thinking beyond personalities and onto what is best for the team, the department, the company.
As you can see, empowerment creates dramatic changes for everyone. Often these changes challenge deep-rooted behavioural and attitudinal patterns that have taken years to form. This evolution does not happen overnight, nor without resistance. To minimize the discomfort these changes can bring, be patient, be positive and be prepared. The results are truly worth the growing pains.