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Avoid a Common Leadership Mistake: Empower Your Team

CoachStation: Steve Riddle, Leadership and Coaching

Effective leaders make shared goals clear. They also clarify the role we each play in achieving them.

Leaders empower their team members and hold them accountable for delivering agreed results.

However, to inspire and empower you must have a connection with your team members…a relationship.

CoachStation: Steve Riddle, Empower, Leadership and Coaching

The words and concept in the heading above could not be clearer. The message and need to establish accountability cannot be understated. Making this real in practice is the challenge.

How many of us truly provide the context and create the environment where trust and accountability are encouraged? Do you empower or dis-empower?

A few weeks ago I facilitated a ‘Lunch and Learn’ session with one of my clients. The session formed part of a week-long focus on leadership. Other speakers included representatives from Blanchard International and BTS Australasia. I was provided with guidance on the session topic, which had to relate to coaching and leadership. We were fortunate to have Max from Sketchvideos recording the key points from each session, as highlighted in the image above.

Many of us have the opportunity to influence, lead and manage people either directly or indirectly every day. Like most leadership and people-related skills, this requires practice and effort. It is important to understand the key points and areas to focus on and practice whilst developing yourself and those around you. In the lunch and learn sessions, I discussed the core traits and skills that the most effective leaders possess and apply every day.

To empower is to provide opportunity for buy-in and success for individual employees and your team overall.

One of the most important, yet often missed elements is to establish agreed expectations and standards. Clarity of expectations provides a greater chance that your team members will complete tasks and actions in an efficient and timely way. It is virtually impossible for an employee to feel empowered if there is disagreement or misunderstanding in what they are expected to do each day. Most critically, clarity allows each person to engage in their roles and hold themselves accountable.

Most managers are more comfortable discussing and holding team members accountable for the objective aspects of their role for example KPI’s; KRA’s; results etc. They are often less comfortable influencing the ‘seemingly subjective’ aspects of the role. As highlighted in the associated graphic, we often do more talking and telling than asking and listening. This is particularly prevalent when managing people, during 1:1’s and appraisal-type discussions.

By telling and informing, the leader is assuming a lot and making it more about themselves. Who’s 1:1 is it anyway?

Too often managers are fearful about how to establish expectations and hold these conversations. Particularly when the goals and standards are seemingly subjective and are less quantifiable. With the right skills and practice, accountability is possible to apply, no matter the details of the performance expectation or requirement.

Once agreed, the commitment to meet the expectation is implicit, whether objective or subjective in nature.

It is worth considering whether this point applies to you? Take a moment to reflect on how often you deliberately focus on agreed expectations. Check in with your team…you may be surprised at the response. Additionally, there are other skills and traits that employees look for in their leaders. The graphic below highlights a recent survey that asked which leadership traits and skills were most important.

Leadership Skills Survey Results_HBR

Whereas, most of them are reasonably obvious, we can all think of manager’s who fail more than succeed in demonstrating the skills through action. The skills can be developed. What is one of the best ways to influence most, if not all, of the leadership skills listed above? Coaching! Being coached and developing others through coaching has tangible and measurable benefits. Many of these outcomes are the skills that our employees are looking for. How do we know this? Because feedback and survey after survey tells us so.

A leader only has to become moderately proficient in most of the skills above to be an effective and productive leader. Perfection across all skills is not required. In fact, it is not possible. However, taking the time and putting conscious effort into growth and development provides many benefits…to yourself and your team. Although, it is worth remembering that knowing and doing are not the same thing! Oddly, they are the same traits and attributes you are looking from from your leaders. Yet, we often see what we provide and what we get in different contexts and degrees of self-expectation.

Genuine progress is made through taking action, developing skills and closing any gaps.

Managers can attest to this experience: You ask an employee to carry out a task that has enough flexibility for creative input. Rather than making their own decisions, the employee comes to you with an onslaught of questions, trying to pin down the exact parameters of the task. You become exasperated, wondering why the employee has to ask you permission for every tiny detail.

This isn’t an unusual phenomenon – it can be difficult to break out of the leader-follower mindset at the workplace. In fact, researchers from Penn State, Claremont McKenna College, and Tsinghua University find that only rare, “transformational leaders” are able to prevent employees from being excessively reliant on their bosses, cultivating instead a staff that feels empowered and self-guided.

Trust and business acumen are some of the cornerstones in building this type of work culture.

We can use this wisdom to train informed and decisive teams that we can trust. (1)

To empower is to provide opportunity for involvement and input into the conversation; understand what matters most to each person; and have a say into the work being performed.

In Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen writes, “At the heart of leadership is the leader’s relationship with followers. People will entrust their hopes and dreams to another person only if they think the other is a reliable vessel.”

There was a time when leaders thought their role was to exert power over others. No longer. Today’s best leaders recognise their leadership is most effective when they empower others to step up and lead. That’s exactly what the new generation of Gen X and Millennials expect from their leaders, and they respond with great performance.

With leadership comes responsibility. As Clayton Christensen wrote, “No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognised for achievement.”

It’s time to lead authentically. You can do so by focusing on empowering others. 

A team of empowered leaders all rowing in the same direction is hard to beat. (2) It is only when we mature and grow as leaders that we realise most people have at least a general understanding of their own performance, successes and future development opportunities. Gaining more context through asking; developing a stronger connection and trust; and setting up the opportunity for more productive relationships ongoing, are all benefits. But, we don’t provide enough guidance through facilitating a discussion to help our employees draw these conclusions. These behaviours are most commonly a result of:

  • Avoidance and fear of our own capability to assist – “I won’t ask the question as I may not be able to do anything with the answer”
  • Prior poor examples, experiences or situations that have created self-doubt
  • Lack of skill and capability to lead
  • Selfishness – simply not caring enough about members of your team to bother (a strong indicator that this type of manager shouldn’t be leading teams in the first place!!)

The desire to build leadership skill takes time…just like every other skill or capability you have developed.

To coach and lead is to empower. But, we all must develop the capability to do this well. The graphic below provides a set of guidelines about how to hold an effective 1:1 and coach accordingly. You will notice there are more questions that statements. Your opinion and view can be fed into the conversation as it develops. Stop and consider whether a question may be more effective and provide greater understanding than a statement would.

Coaching & Mentoring Empower 5 Stages 1017

Giving up control and empowering your team can be a terrifying experience for many leaders. You might feel compelled to watch their every move and peek over their shoulders. But by monitoring someone’s every move, you’re actually impeding his or her ability to grow.

Give your team some space, trust them, and you might be impressed by what they’re able to achieve.

Breaking out of the traditional leader-follower mindset can help you create stronger staff bonds founded on trust, self-confidence, and achievement. When you create room for independent work and decision-making, your team might discover that they’re able to achieve far more than they originally thought possible. Test drive these leadership techniques, and see what your own team is really capable of. (1)

How do you think you might use this information to empower and assist your team?


(1) Forbes.com

(2) Huffington Post