Every now and then, like his best buddy Warren Buffett, we will catch Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates dropping advice that, while simple and idealistic, actually holds lasting power and truth we can count on as leaders.
Like this from the prophetic Gates prior to the third millennium:
As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.
OK, I do admit that Gates' definition is quite broad. I mean, empowered to do what? That's a good starter question to refine who a leader is, because at the end of the day, no leader is successful without having touched the life of another human being.
Gates's leadership empowerment philosophy runs counter to the archetypal boss who merely gives orders and "drives" people through fear and positional authority.
Empowerment in practice
And while leading a team is no cakewalk in today's fast-paced business setting, leaders are expected to empower their teams to innovate and produce great work. This is the essence of what great leadership looks like.
So how do true leaders actually empower those around them to achieve great things together? I posit that leaders in 2020 and beyond will require the capacity to do three things:
1. Know your team members intimately.
One of my favorite executives that I've featured a few times is Chuck Runyon, CEO of the multibillion-dollar Self Esteem Brands, parent company to Anytime Fitness, Waxing the City, and Basecamp Fitness.
In a previous column, Runyon shared five steps to becoming more self-aware, which will help in your interactions with employees, colleagues, customers, and investors.
One of those steps is to know your team members on an intimate level in order to build them up, because a business is only as strong as its people.
Runyon shares: "Get in the weeds with them, celebrate their wins, and be there for them if they fail. Encourage and empower them to take risks in order to continue improving and advancing. Provide opportunities for professional development such as conferences, events, and courses for personal growth."
2. Communicate like a leader.
You can't call yourself a leader if you don't communicate like one. Having coached countless leaders over the years, I have noted that so many of them struggle with communication.
It's not necessarily the inability to articulate thoughts and ideas at a high level (like on a stage or at a board meeting) to influence your key stakeholders. No, I speak of communication as a means to inspire, motivate, and include others in decisions that will benefit the team.
I speak of communication that lifts people up and empowers them in the pursuit of a common purpose. It's communicating respectfully with people, seeing them as worthy colleagues rather than objects and a means to an end.
We may ultimately forget that effective communication isn't just about talking; it's listening intuitively to the other person's story, asking questions, and searching conversations for depth, meaning, and understanding.
3. Care for others more than for self.
There are no rock star leaders seeking personal gain or glory in high-performing cultures. It's all about the team "W," (win) and there's zero tolerance for company politics under selfless leaders.
The focus of their "selfless excellence" is truly on the impact their employees can bring to the company.
Selfless leadership is empowering to others because it not only drives teamwork and employee-ownership throughout a company, but it also prevents silos and barriers from arising between departments, teams, or individuals that can put a monkey wrench in innovation and kill collaboration.