Attention CEOs and Senior Leaders – Remind Your Leaders That Empowerment Is NOT the Abdication of Responsibility

Great News! Your leadership team development and accountability will grow through strategic empowerment!

During a Leadership Workshop with one of our clients, the subject of empowerment came up and there were many different definitiions discussed on exactly what empowerment looked like from complete delegation with no oversight to undefined roles and responsibilities and letting the team figure it out..  Today, I intend to clarify the topic.

I have been blessed to start my career within a world-class organization in Connecticut called Wiremold.  Wiremold is internationally renowned as a pioneer in the successful execution of Lean business practices and recipient of the prestigious Shingo Prize for Manufacturing Excellence in 1999. These improvements were recounted in the award winning books “Gemba Kaizen”, “Lean Thinking”, and the most recent “The Lean Turnaround”.

While at Wiremold I observed for myself what an exceptionally good culture of employee empowerment looked like.   In the spirit of continuous improvement, I built off this great foundation and added more detail and improvements to these foundational themes over the past 25 years. I would like to share our approach for effectively delegating to your team in a way that creates a sense of empowerment.   The following four themes define the attributes  you need to incorporate to create a productive culture of employee empowerment:

  1. Design your delegation to gently stretch the employee’s capability and capacity level
  2. Define your vision and expectations
  3. Dedicate time for a regular and frequent touch base
  4. Develop an atmosphere that encourages employees to take risks

1. Design your delegation to the gently stretch the employee’s capability and capacity level

In order to effectively delegate to your team you need to have a solid understanding of your employee’s capabilities.  Developing this understanding involves being able to observe how your team performs in different situations, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they react when presented with a challenge that is on the outer edge of their comfort zone. Maximizing your team member’s performance in this situation also requires you as the leader to know when and how to coach and mentor the employee to maximize their performance, and also for you to know the best coaching approach that fits their reaction to the challenge.

On our website you are invited to download our Win Conscious LeadershipTM guide where four of the eight characteristics of Win Conscious Leadership center on “conscious of others.”  This is a great place to start to learn these skills.

2. Define your vision and expectations

The next step in this process is to clearly define expectations, which include your vision of the final product, the team member’s role and responsibilities, how you will support this team member, and agreement on the goals for the assignment.

In the case where you are delegating the leadership for a project you may want to consider drafting a charter.  Having a charter expands on the base expectations and would include the problem statement you jointly develop, the scope of the project (boundaries), project goals, preliminary project work plan, success metrics (measures), team members, assumptions, risks, and obstacles.

Defining your expectations will create the foundation for accountability within the activities you are delegating.  After you have defined the vision, scope, and agree on the goals, I would recommend you encourage your employee to examine and reflect on the knowledge and expertise that may be required to perform the activity. This will allow them to determine if they have the expertise required, or if they need to seek help from others.

3. Dedicate time for a regular and frequent touch base

The goal of dedicating time for a regular touch base frequency is to develop mutual respect and trust. The purpose of this step is to provide a regular coaching and mentoring opportunity without introducing a situation that could be perceived as micromanagement on your part.  Remember, employees will not take responsibility for their actions if the boss is looking over their shoulders all the time.

In essence, you are giving your employee a forum and permission to ask questions and seek your guidance and, if needed, for you to work shoulder to shoulder for a brief period of time as you take on the role of Coach.  As the leader you should use these touch points to refine your ability to actively listen and provide constructive feedback without dictating actions to take. Your challenge is to develop internal motivation within your employee by asking 5+ questions for each single directive style comment you offer and encourage Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) style thinking within your conversation. This 3rd step may be the most difficult for leaders who are not used to effectively delegating.  We recently wrote a quick guide to help you practice this approach called The Empowerment Guide.

 4. Develop an atmosphere that encourages them to take risks

Creating an environment of great empowerment includes encouraging a level of risk taking.  Your task is to provide the environment where you give your employees permission to take risks and potentially fail, while also encouraging them to learn from their mistakes.

Helping your employee understand PDCA thinking creates a learning atmosphere where the expected outcome is articulated, the actual results are reviewed, and learning takes place before the next experiment occurs.  Using the PDCA model provides you the opportunity to coach your employee to take calculated risks and then examine the outcome vs. what they expected to occur all within a semi-controlled environment.

My two favorite quotes about risk taking are:

 “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up” – Vince Lombardi

 “Fall down 7 times get up 8” – Japanese Proverb

When things do go wrong, you must teach yourself to listen to your employees and encourage them to find solutions versus you solving the issue for them. Utilizing this four-theme framework will take practice to master.  I expect that once you master this framework the results and increase in performance you see from your team will be amazing.

About the Author: David Tweedt

David Tweedt is President of Win Enterprises, LLC. He helps visionary business leaders create a sustainable performance focused organization focused on profit growth. Win’s proven strategy and execution process integrates the inner game (Science of Success) with cutting edge business transformation strategies with a goal of doubling your profits.

Industry-Leading Guarantee:  Our commitment to you:  When you follow our recommendations, your annual Return on Investment will be greater than 100% your investment with us or we’ll keep working with you until it is.

David is also contributing author of the National Best Selling Book – Elite Business Systems: Insider Strategies of Industry Leading Consultants & International Best Selling Book – Lightening Growth: Success Strategies for Today’s Leaders.

If you are not achieving the results you want, then contact David to learn more about how he and his team can help you maximize your results. Learn more at Contact David: