In several recent interviews for new senior staff, I was challenged by candidates on my distinct leadership approach. In particular, candidates wanted to know how I empower employees and encourage traits such as autonomy, responsibility and the authority to fulfil roles and responsibilities.
Previously, these candidates had worked in organisations where they had been told the culture and environment provided the support for them to learn and grow. However, when it came to decision time, they were given the autonomy and responsibility, but not the authority.
These questions challenged me to think of the best methods and approaches to employee empowerment.
Many years ago, I was inspired by the book The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, which advocates for “democratic” managers – leaders who balance the needs of their people with driving outcomes and achieving business success.
The key principles have stuck with me throughout my career, and have played a big part in the way I view leadership. Over time, my own experiences have evolved, but when I’m asked what I base my leadership methods on, to this day I cite The One Minute Manager as a foundation.
My approach to empowering people to be creative and achieve their best is by providing them with clear expectations and a framework to operate within, ensuring that they know they have the right support and an empathetic ear – and then getting out of their way.
The 5-step method to employee empowerment
Set clear expectations
When setting objectives for your people, ensure that you provide clear expectations. Often people fail to meet your expectations simply due to both parties having a different interpretation of the expectation, not because of they lack ability or enthusiasm. At a minimum, be clear on what you want them to do and give them a deadline.
Set boundaries and a framework
While it’s important to provide your people with the autonomy to do their best and deliver the most creative outcomes possible, it’s also important to provide them with a framework to work within if required. For example, alignment to the company strategy, industry regulations, the company’s minimum profit objectives, or a certain code of conduct. Setting the right boundaries and framework will speed up the process, minimising frustration and potential rework.
Have periodic check-ins
Notify your people that you have an open-door policy and that you encourage them to check in throughout the project to ask questions, gain feedback, discuss options and ensure your expectations are still aligned. This will provide your team with the confidence that they’re supported but not micro-managed. Periodic check-ins also reinforce that seeking advice, input or feedback is a positive thing and will limit surprises and disappointment at the end of the project.
Seek solutions, not problems
Encourage your people to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Create a culture where your people come to you not only with a problem, but with a minimum of two potential solutions, their recommendations and reasons why these solutions will work. A collaborative approach to problem-solving will empower and encourage your people to think laterally.
Provide regular feedback
Throughout the journey and at the end, provide your people with clear, precise and encouraging feedback. Recognise the good work they are doing, and areas where they may be able to improve. It’s important to provide regular feedback throughout the journey, not just at the end. This will provide your people with the confidence that they are on the right path and that their contributions are valued and respected, encouraging further achievements.
CEOs and leaders wishing to encourage their people to excel in their roles and lift performance to new heights should create a supportive culture that’s grounded in empathy and trust. An open-door policy is a key way to empower your people to take initiative, assert authority over their work and feel that their contributions are valued. At the same time, when people are encouraged to check in with senior management and provided with regular feedback and positive reinforcement, they will feel that they are working as part of a collaborative and productive whole. A culture of collaboration and strong, trusted relationships is the key to driving business success, both now and in the future.