It’s All About Leaning In, Not Stepping Away

Jan 14, 2021 | Leadership

As many companies are finding out, that transition from a top down approach to empowerment is not an easy one to make. It requires new behaviors and new ways of thinking for both leaders and employees.

The explosion of remote work during the pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Managers are tasked with ensuring top notch execution, but are now physically less connected to their teams – and in-person, face-to-face time is limited to zoom and teams calls.

What is Empowerment?

Oftentimes empowerment is misunderstood. It can be interpreted that managers and leaders should take a hands-off approach, resulting in employees sinking or swimming. But that’s more like neglect. Empowerment is an active process. It involves coaching or teaching team members to self-serve, to make decisions, and to own their role.

Without training or guidance on how to empower, managers often resort to stop providing direction and let employees figure out issues themselves. The problem: This rarely works. Telling employees to figure it out on their own may only slow down the learning and performance process, because employees aren’t necessarily comfortable taking the reins. Empowerment is leaning in and investing in your employees.

The “neglect” approach creates a feedback loop that is very difficult to break. Employees who don’t know how to ask for the right help. But when they don’t get a clear, direct answer (like they need to move forward) they simply resort to what has worked in the past.
Resulting in frustration on both ends.

The Responsibility Is On You to Lead

Empowering employees means asking questions that prompt them to think through the problem. For example, rather than saying: “The sales team needs to boost their numbers by 4% in the second quarter,” ask them, “How can we work together to increase sales in the next four months?”

Leaders need to own their roles in empowerment: helping to define and shape the problem, so that a team is empowered to develop a solution. The destination is agreed upon, but the path to get there has yet to be paved. Which requires leaders to let go of control and work together with their teams to pave the way.

Becoming empowered requires a mental shift for many people – leader, manager and employee. It means that you’ll need to take an honest approach and look at your team and how they’re working or not working to push your company forward.

In 2021, employees need to be empowered to have purpose and take ownership in their roles.

Where Do You Begin Empowering Your Team?

Role ownership issues fall into one of three categories:

(1) self-image, or what gives us a sense of gratification, purpose, and self-worth,

(2) performance, the ability to master one’s responsibilities,

(3) organizational fit, or whether or not one feels accepted by their colleagues and able to contribute fully.

Take Jim, an operations manager. For the most part Jim’s role is routine: a work order comes in; then he checks to make sure everything is filled out properly; and that he has clear instructions to follow to complete the procedure. Many layers of processes have been added to prevent mistakes from the past from happening — again — so Jim really has nothing to feel empowered to do – unless his role changes or expands. He feels more like a robot.
Jim’s managers are signaling to him (and colleagues like him) that he is not worth investing in – even though that is likely not their intent.

On the other side, Jim is bored and feeling unable to live up to his potential through his limited role and exposure. He may not feel like he belongs in the organization or has been accepted by his colleagues, so he tries to make it through the day before going home to family and friends.

Jim’s issues could go deeper. He could be struggling with his self-image: If the work he does isn’t challenging or important, is he?
Without asking questions of Jim and trying to understand his motivational issues, managers and leaders are likely to write him off — not recognizing the role they play when they design the work.

As executives, we make up our own stories about the people who seem to struggle: They are lazy. They don’t get it. They aren’t a good fit. They don’t want to work. We rarely spend the time to help them uncover what they truly are struggling with.

What manager is ever given that much time to devote to employee investment?

Empowering your employees means getting to know what motivates them, what makes them tick, and using that to turn them into engaged employees. Once your employee is fueled with empowerment you’ve helped them become purpose driven for life. And your job managing them just became a lot more rewarding

Take an interest in your employees. If they feel valued they’ll perform. Interested in learning more about employee empowerment? Check out my ebook, Empowerment Equals Performance

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Jeremy Miller

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