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Empowering Employees Successfully

Empowering Employees Successfully

If any organization wants to be more committed to the concept of greater empowerment for all, information needs to be widely shared and not jealously guarded within formal reporting channels or amongst only a few people with managerial titles. But saying this is one thing and doing it is quite another. Leaders across the organization therefore need to start to act as role models for empowerment and give individuals the room to take more decisions on their own. Empowerment then is all about enabling the growth of individuals by giving them new and different  tasks to perform (including some complex ones and some previously done by leaders) and not looking quite so often over their respective shoulders to take control (unless this is absolutely necessary).

Just to be clear then, empowering is about sharing information and even power and this is demonstrated when:

  1. Mutual listening is taking place (between leaders and their team members).
  2. Responsibility for outcomes is shared (at least to some extent).
  3. There is two-way discussion on tasks (not so much on what is to be done but how).
  4. Individuals bring ideas of their own to the table regularly.
  5. Minor mistakes are tolerated (and treated as opportunities to learn)

Given the above, empowerment is not:

  1. Treating empowerment as just a chance to delegate workload to others
  2. Abrogating or permitting employees to do what they like.
  3. Delegating work that a manager doesn’t like or doesn’t want to do.
  4. Excluding one individual on the team at the expense of another.
  5. Loading up the most competent or able individuals on the team

Servant leadership as a route to greater empowerment

One successful way in which leaders can start to empower employees more is to progressively seek to become a “servant-leader”, or someone who offers time and resources when individuals need to perform tasks and projects and when customers need satisfying. Servant leaders understand that their role is to facilitate the success of those they lead mainly by performing a support and advice-giving role.

The author Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term servant-leader, explains that servant leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” In other words, individuals are unlikely to follow a leader who isn’t not only humble but also concerned about their capacity to do a job and the success they are likely to achieve. Hence, when you act as a servant-leader, people on the team:

  1. Won’t wait for their leader to prescribe exactly how a task is to be performed.
  2. Will look to do things differently and take more reasonable risks.
  3. Will be more aligned with the overall organization’s values in their actions, because this can be openly discussed as each task or project is assigned.
  4. Will feel more appreciated and committed to give of their best.

So what can leaders practically do?

There are many practical steps that leaders can take to empower employees on their teams-here are just a few:

  1. Create a climate of sincerity and trust. Demonstrate your commitment to individuals by trusting them to perform a task or project to a high standard.
  2. Encourage individuals to collaborate more at peer level.
  3. Focus on what needs to be done (overall strategy and targets) but let individuals provide ideas on how this is to be achieved (tactics).
  4. Be as consistent with your promises to give people room or freedom to act (no secret spying!).
  5. Quietly learn from any mistakes made and celebrate empowerment successes when they occur.

Ultimately, when you empower employees more often, individuals naturally end up liking their jobs a lot more. An empowering leadership approach may therefore be the best antidote to any existing signs of employee stress or dissatisfaction, boredom, poor team relationships, confusion about targets, an active and negative “grapevine” and lots of unhelpful office politics.

Of course, the journey to a fully empowered employee climate is never finished; it’s a constant and often rewarding process for any leader who can learn how to do it well and pursue a path that leads to great workplace satisfaction.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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