Empowerment is a great thing. Empowered employees show greater commitment, stay more engaged, and create better results. Empowered employees take more initiative and get more done than employees who work in a fear-based, command-and-control environment.
As a new supervisor, you may have heard and read about these organizational performance results, and then decided that you want to empower your employees. So, you go tell them that they are empowered. You watch and wait for them to act empowered. And you wonder why you don’t get the results you hoped for.
What went wrong?
Before I offer the solution, consider this question: Is a person empowered when you empower them or when they feel empowered?
The full answer is that both must be true to get the positive results mentioned above. You must give people the authority and freedom to act – you must empower them. And people must feel empowered before they will act on that empowerment.
Most leaders get the first part. Telling people that they have authority and that they can act on their own initiative is a pretty obvious first step towards creating an empowered work force.
The second part is a bit more difficult to quantify. It is more difficult to put into specific action steps. In fact, the second part is outside your direct control. It is, however, something that you can influence. There are things you can do or say that undermine your efforts to empower the members of your team. Likewise there are things you can do or say that will support your efforts.
If people live in fear that you will criticize them, condemn them, or complain about them, they will not feel empowered. They will feel controlled. If they feel controlled, they will not deliver the positive results of a truly empowered workplace.
To create a feeling of empowerment, do everything in your power to foster a positive workplace culture with little or no fear used as the motivating factor in people’s actions. Here are two ideas to consider as you work to achieve a fear-free environment that supports and encourages empowerment:
Compliment more than you condemn. Seeing what people do wrong is easy. Looking past it to see what they did well can take some effort – especially when you are under tight time and budget constraints. Remember that any negative comments you make will have a much stronger impact on people than your positive ones, and that negative comments tend to create fear and anxiety more than they create positive motivation. Look for and comment on anything that people are doing well. This simple act will do more to create a feeling of empowerment than any spoken or written assignment of responsibility you will ever make.
Coach more than you critique. When you trust people to do things, they will make mistakes. That is just a fact of life as a leader. How you respond to the mistakes people make has a big impact on the feelings people have about you, their work, and how much you trust them. When a person on your team makes a mistake, you need to correct it. When you do, remember to use more positive feed forward – what you do want to see in the future – than any comments about what you do not want to see.
Keep these two ideas in mind as you work with your team, and you can create the feeling of empowerment on your team that leads to greater success.
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