“Most people think leadership is about being in charge. Most people think leadership is about having all the answers and being the most intelligent person or the most qualified person in the room. The irony is that it is the complete opposite. Leadership is about empowering others to achieve things they did not think possible. Leadership is about pointing in the direction, articulating a vision of the world that does not yet exist. Then asking help from others to ensure that vision happens.” (Simon Sinek)

Empowering managers and employees is a tricky exercise. Employees who are afforded more decision-making power, put in meetings in order to exercise that power, given few guidelines and few tools for eliminating barriers, often fail. Leaders successfully empower employees when they understand the idea of empowerment. They empower because they correctly see and understand the key obstacles and what is keeping them in place. They empower by mustering courage and self-confidence within themselves.

John P Kotter (The Heart of Change) insightfully notes: “People act cowardly, or at least seem to, for many reasons. Perhaps most of all, they hold back because the obstacles blocking action seem gargantuan. They have a boss problem, an entire middle management problem, an information system problem, a mind problem, and more. All these challenges can seem overwhelming because, in total, they are overwhelming. You don’t have to be crushed, no matter how complex the situation. Don’t try to do everything at once.”

Deal effectively with obstacles that block action, especially disempowering bosses, lack of information, the wrong performance measurement and reward systems, and a lack of self-confidence as suggested by Kotter:

  • Finding individuals with change experience who can bolster people’s self-confidence with we-won-you-can-too anecdotes
  • Establishing recognition and reward systems that inspire, promote optimism, and build self-confidence
  • Giving feedback that can help people make better vision-related decisions
  • Retooling disempowering managers by giving them new jobs that clearly show the need for change

Kotter goes on to suggest what does not work:

  • Ignoring bosses who seriously disempower their subordinates
  • Solving the boss problem by taking away their power (making them mad and scared) and giving it to their subordinates
  • Trying to remove all the barriers at once
  • Giving in to your own pessimism and fears

Empowering action requires little, but important, steps. To bring about successful change, people need to understand and act on a change vision. So, leaders must remove barriers in their paths, remove tattered sails and give them better ones, deflect the wind in their faces and create a wind at their backs, and develop their self-confidence.

Leave a Reply