How to Empower for Excellence
Many leaders can achieve their goals and even increase company revenue. But, in a world of constant change, organizations and leaders need employees that will proactively engage in problem-solving, change, innovation, and challenging the status quo. Senior leaders need followers who take charge to create a competitive advantage; however, changing and challenging the status quo is risky in most organizations. If a leader doesn't know how to empower for excellence, team morale and the business will not achieve the best of what can be.
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates
What is empowerment?
The word empowerment has come in and out of favor with leadership. Recently it has started to gain acceptance again within executive leadership circles, and for good reasons. Leaders need committed employees.
em·pow·er·ment: the promotion of the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to take charge.
Empowerment shapes feelings and actions that enhance followers' intrinsic motivation. Understanding how to unlock intrinsic motivation is vital for leaders, followers, and organizations to achieve excellence. Leaders cannot control every situation and outcome, and followers with intrinsic motivation persist during complex and ambiguous work. They learn from failure rather than giving up.
Sadly, a common overly simplified misconception of empowerment is that leaders give away power. Empowering for excellence requires leaders to harness empowerment by clearly articulating a compelling vision for the best of what can be at the individual, team, and organizational levels.
The benefits of empowering followers
There is abundant research on the benefits of team effectiveness, work satisfaction, shared identity, and well-being that result from empowering followers. In addition to enhancing intrinsic motivation, empowering followers is proven to enhance autonomy, control, self-management, and confidence in team behaviors.
When leaders encourage followers to take the initiative with tasks such as making decisions, it increases psychological ownership leading to a sense of responsibility and positive workplace behaviors. Leaders encourage followers to take charge by applying good active listening skills, asking for input and delegating authority.
Empowering for excellence
Although there is more limited research into the most effective means for a leader to empower followers, leadership style plays a key role. Managerial practices and leadership are the primary drivers of if followers will voluntarily take charge.
Leading from a follower's first point of view, such as servant leadership, results in a willingness to take charge, set high standards, and a devotion to each other. Trust, love, and belonging unlock the ability of the team to excel because of their differences rather than in spite of them.
The following short video from leadership guru Ken Blanchard provides some thoughts on the power of servant leadership in today's workplace.
Robert Greenleaf is attributed by most as the founder of servant leadership, described a servant leader as a servant first and used the following test to answer the question, what's servant leadership?
The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived. ~Greenleaf & Spears
Key Summary Points:
Senior leaders need followers who take charge to create a competitive advantage
Changing and challenging the status quo is risky in most organizations
Empowerment shapes feelings and actions that enhance followers' intrinsic motivation.
There is abundant research on the benefits of team effectiveness, work satisfaction, shared identity, and well-being that result from empowering followers.
Trust, love, and belonging unlock the ability of the team to excel because of their differences rather than inspire them.
Managerial practices and leadership are the primary drivers of if followers will voluntarily take charge.
Servant leadership results in followers' willingness to set high standards, devotion to each other, and take charge.
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Edelmann, C. M., Boen, F., & Fransen, K. (2020). The power of empowerment: Predictors and benefits of shared leadership in organizations. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 582894-582894.
Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th-anniversary ed.). Paulist Press.
Leavy, B. (2020). The dynamics of empowering leader-follower relationships. Strategy & Leadership, 48(6), 27-33. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/SL-09-2020-0125
Li, S., He, W., Yam, K. C., & Long, L. (2015). When and why empowering leadership increases followers' taking charge: A multilevel examination in china. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 32(3), 645-670.