There is plenty of leadership advice on how to empower your employees, but empowerment is a two-way street. It’s how people work together, up and down the organization, that enables them to thrive.
Working in a family business was one of the best experiences of my life. My parents gave me lots of latitude, but not enough to harm the business. They created leadership challenges and projects to develop my skills and expertise, and they empowered me to push the business as far as I could.
Little did I know, they were also watching to see how I stepped up. They had lots of hopes and dreams, but ultimately the responsibility was mine: how would I use the autonomy and authority they were granting to me?
Empowering employees (properly) is one side of the equation, and how they use it is the other.
Empowerment Starts with a Leadership Decision
Nothing happens until a leader makes a choice to empower their employees to be successful. This is easier said than done. True empowerment requires fulfilling six key emotional dimensions.
An employee has to:
- Feel they matter
- Feel they have autonomy and the ability to choose (make decisions)
- Feel they are competent
- Feel included and related to the team and organization
- Feel successful and a sense of accomplishment
- Feel hope
If just one of these conditions is missing or removed, you can create an empowerment problem.
Dan Pink writes in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, “We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”
Achieving this fine balance takes more than lip service or an open-door policy. It’s much harder than that. To empower employees, leaders have to create the ecosystem of success. The organization has to excel at hiring, supporting, and providing the tools and space for people to reach their full potential.
At the same time, the leader has to listen, learn, and adapt. Empowering people is fluid, and it requires constant attention and focus.
Employees Have to Step Up Too!
A leader can create a fun, dynamic work environment that gives people every opportunity to thrive, but that doesn’t mean everyone always “steps up” to the challenge. Empowerment is a two-way street, and how employees use that latitude is their choice.
It’s a personal decision:
- How are you choosing to use the power you’re given?
- How far are you willing to go?
- What will you do to contribute to the betterment of your team, customers, and the business as a whole?
This isn’t easy. The hardest part of being empowered is the risk of falling down.
My parents gave me lots of latitude, and I made lots of mistakes — from making bad hiring decisions to failed product launches to marketing campaigns that went nowhere. I tried lots of stuff, and I had some big, epic failures. But my wins beat my losses.
That’s the true value of being empowered. You might make a mistake or two, but if you’re working in the right environment that’s ok. Great leaders want their employees to try, learn, adapt and grow so they can get better.
Because when you grow and get better, you raise the performance of everyone around you.
Take a Chance on Yourself
This is a call to action to both sides.
Leaders: Choose to empower. Running through command-and-control is unproductive and exhausting. Give your team the latitude to thrive.
Employees: Take every opportunity to step up. In this marketplace, the only real limiter is you. Think about it. The unemployment rate is near zero. If a boss holds you back then you have every right to graduate to a new job or company. There’s really very little risk, but everything to gain.