Many leaders achieve their goals and even increase company revenue. But, in a world of fast-paced change and complexity, businesses need employees who will proactively engage in problem-solving, make change happen, and take the initiative to innovate. To create a competitive advantage, leaders need a committed team that can take charge. However, challenging the status quo in most organizations is risky. If a leader doesn't know how to empower others well, evidence suggests team morale and the business suffer. Here is what leaders need to know about empowerment and five strategies to ignite a spark in others to achieve excellence.
Why igniting the spark in others holds a key to achieving excellence
The word empowerment has come in and out of favor with leadership. Sadly, a common, overly simplified misconception of empowerment is that leaders give away power.
Empowerment is the promotion of the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to take charge.
Recently, empowerment has started to gain renewed acceptance within executive leadership circles, and for good reasons. Leaders need committed employees.
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates
Empowerment shapes feelings and actions that enhance others' intrinsic motivation. 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. Evidence suggests a positive link between higher levels of employee intrinsic motivation and work productivity. It is a moderating factor in employee engagement.
There is abundant research to support that empowering others creates improved:
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.
5 Strategies to empower others for excellence
Although there is limited research into the most effective means for a leader to empower others, your leadership plays a key role. Managerial practices and leadership are the primary drivers of if followers voluntarily take charge.
You can encourage others to take charge by applying good active listening skills, asking for input, and delegating authority.
Empowerment Strategy #1: Active Listening
Being truly heard is rare in the workplace. Listening leaves your team feeling valued, affirmed, and connected emotionally with you. Actively listening is your ability to hear and improve mutual understanding. When you actively listen, you pay attention, show interest, suspend judgment, reflect, clarify, summarize, and share to gain clarity and understanding. When you listen, you are available to the other person.
The following video from Simon Sinek is about creating an environment where the other person feels heard.
Empowerment Strategy #2: Leading with Questions
Questions grounded in curiosity create influence. Not all questions are equal. For example, if you ask followers why are they behind schedule? You will likely get a defensive response rather than a solution. If you ask, what key things need to happen for you to achieve the goal? You will encourage followers to apply critical thinking to identify a solution.
Learning to ask the right question instead of always having the answer benefits you, your team, and the organization. Leaders who ask questions become better listeners and gain deeper insights into how to bring out the best in others and guide the organization. Followers asked questions develop greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and empowerment.
Empowerment Strategy #3: Delegating Authority
Caught between the pressure of urgent and important work demands, delegating is often one leadership approach that gets cut. One of the more complex and essential things for a leader is going from doing to leading. Giving up authority and responsibility can seem counterintuitive to leadership. Spending a little time and effort upfront to consider the task, situation, employee, communication, and leadership support is crucial to delegating effectively.
If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make an impact, learn to delegate. – John C. Maxwell
Empowerment Strategy #4: Vision
Articulating a compelling vision clarifies direction, inspires confidence and action, and coordinates efforts. Evidence suggests that a compelling vision is directly and positively related to creative performance. A vision needs to be desired, beneficial to others, challenging, and visual to be considered compelling. Stories and metaphors are powerful ways to connect with others.
Developing a vision is an exercise of both the head and the heart, it takes some time, it always involves a group of people, and it is tough to do well. Kotter, Leading Change
Empowerment Strategy #5: Servant Leadership
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, are you a servant leader?
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
To learn more about servant leadership, check out this article with an assessment to help you measure if your current leadership style aligns with servant leadership and the ten leadership characteristics.
What is your real empowerment challenge?
Key Summary Points:
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.
Doolittle, J. (2023). Life-changing leadership habits: 10 Proven principles that will elevate people, profit, and purpose. Organizational Talent Consulting.
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.