Having empowered employees is the dream of every leader. All managers want people who show initiative by taking on and completing tasks with little guidance. Of course, the expectation is that these people will perform only in ways consistent with company objectives and values. And there lies the leadership challenge. Often the leadership has not done their part to empower the employees or, worse, has gotten in the way through micro-management.
Not all leaders have selfish intentions or poor skills; many simply haven't had the training, time or focus to create an environment of empowerment. Below are eight tips to help make your company a place where people feel good about stepping up and taking it on.
1. Foster Open Communication
So many companies are built on top-down communication from management. Employees in this environment feel there is no purpose in taking a stand, since they have no direct channel and don't feel they'll have an impact. As a leader, you may have clear direction and more experience, but that doesn't invalidate feedback and ideas from people on the front lines. Give employees structured ways to make their thoughts, feelings and observations known easily and regularly. Help them understand that their input is valued even if you decide to go a different way. Make sure you acknowledge them for sharing and reward valuable input that helps the company.
2. Reward Self-Improvement
Many leaders complain that employees are stagnant but do little to help them grow. In such cases, somehow management has the idea that promotion and money are sufficient to get people to advance. More often than not, people don't have the resources or knowledge of what to do. Many entrepreneurs are so accustomed to self-improvement that they assume everyone thinks the same way. Budget dollars and time toward management and personal development training. Help employees set a plan for growth and reward them as they advance. They'll be grateful and apply their newly-learned skills as they step up to leadership opportunities.
3. Encourage Safe Failure
Many employees, by their very nature, are risk-adverse. That's why they are employees and not entrepreneurs. If they work in an environment where the boss is always correcting them before they have a chance to execute, they will constantly look for approval before taking action or, worse, simply avoid any new or dynamic action. Give employees the opportunity to try new things in a way that doesn't put the company in danger. Create milestone checkpoints or set up laboratory environments where people can test new ideas and learn from the failures as well as the successes. Then your employees will gain understanding and feel comfortable innovating.
4. Provide Plenty of Context
Most leaders carry lots of information in their brains. Unfortunately, many employees don't get the benefit of all that information, yet they are expected to take action and make good decisions as if they understood every nuance. Great leaders figure out how to extract the important information from their minds and share it in a structured and consistent manner. An employee who clearly understands the core values, purpose and direction of the company can easily make consistent decisions and take appropriate action at any junction. It's on you as the leader to impart your vision. That's how you lead.
5. Clearly Define Roles
People who don't know what they are supposed to do can't do it very well. Additionally, they need to know their boundaries so they don't step on others' toes or create inefficiency through redundancy. Establish specific roles and responsibilities with employees so all are clear and can work together cooperatively.
6. Require Accountability
People need to know when they are meeting expectations and, more importantly, when they are not. No one will maintain accountability if they don't understand the consequences of failure. And if they see others not being held accountable, they will see little need to make the extra effort for success. Be consistent and diligent in your measurement and rewards so employees are motivated to do their best.
7. Support Their Independence
A leader who is constantly looking over the shoulder of employees is little more than a babysitter. Give your employees reasons and opportunity to stretch out on their own and even lead others. They may stumble, but they'll learn a lot and build the respect of their colleagues while preparing to be great empowering leaders themselves someday.
8. Appreciate Their Efforts
Yes, it's true that people get paid for the job. But the best employees don't work at your company just for the money. Empowered people need a greater level of satisfaction than simply financial stability. They need to feel that leadership appreciates their contribution and values their participation. Don't be shy about finding ways to say "thank you" or celebrating the good things your employees do. If they have to ask how they are doing, you are doing your job poorly as a leader.
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