L.E.A.D. - E IS FOR EMPOWER

In this continuing series of articles on the topic of leadership, we are discussing the four essential practices of an effective leader. Diligently honor these four important practices and your team will thrive. Neglect even one of them and your team will struggle to be as successful as it could be if you were doing “your job” as their leader.

 

It is important to remember the critical premise to this entire discussion. A leader must focus on several key activities apart from the work done by the members of his team. While your team is busy executing the plan that has been created to tackle whatever challenge or goal set before them, you as their leader must be busy ensuring that your work is getting done.

 

As their leader, your work is to see to it that the members of your team are being loved, empowered, aligned and developed. This is the ideal culture in which teams prosper.

 

Our topic for this issue is empowerment, the second essential practice of an effective leader.

 

By definition, the word empowerment means to “put power into.” When it comes to work groups, empowerment involves granting team members the authority to act on behalf of the organization. When employees are given the permission to make decisions and take action that influences the direction and operation of the company, they are empowered.

 

Empowerment is often confused with delegation. I believe they are very different from each other.  While delegation assigns responsibility to individuals for certain activities, empowerment entrusts authority to them. Delegation is assigned. Empowerment is bestowed. A job-description delegates; an employer empowers. While the nuance may be subtle, the distinction is profound.

 

In a very practical sense, empowerment is related to critical organizational functions such as:

 

{C}·         Interpreting and enforcing company policies

{C}·         Managing other employees or team members

{C}·         Making significant financial expenditures

{C}·         Representing the company as a spokesperson or ambassador

{C}·         Executing critical procedures that impact productivity

 

The man whose job is to ensure that a vital part is applied properly in the assembly line is doing what has been delegated to him. The man who has the power to shut down the entire assembly line where seconds count toward production (and profits) is empowered. The woman who assists a customer with a problem is acting within the scope of the responsibility delegated to her. If she has the power to grant a significant discount to appease the dissatisfied customer without first checking with a supervisor, she is empowered.

 

One of the best corporate examples of effective empowerment is Southwest Airlines. Stories abound of how many of their employees have the authority to make critical decisions on behalf of the company in real time to ensure the best possible experience for their customers.

 

Authority is a function of ability. People who are granted what we recognize as “authority” are generally individuals who have demonstrated the ability to perform certain functions in a capable and reliable fashion.  For example, police officers are granted authority because they have demonstrated the proficiency required for the power they are granted.

 

This is an important point when it comes to your team.  It is absolutely critical that the people you empower to act on behalf of your organization demonstrate the proficiency and the capacity to do so. Only empower those people who you are very confident will make sound decisions on behalf of your company’s vision, mission, strategy and reputation.

 

Empowerment does not grant everybody equal authority to act on behalf of the organization. It gives them the ability to make wise decisions and take necessary action in relationship to their assigned responsibilities. For instance, empowering a manager in your shipping department grants her the authority to act on behalf of the good of the company in regards to the Shipping Department but not necessarily the Sales Department. It is reasonable to expect that empowerment comes with some boundaries.

 

Your best bet is to empower people who posses a high degree of passion for what you’re doing. A sincere ownership of the vision, mission and values of the organization is a must for successful empowerment.

 

The more people you effectively empower, the more successful you will be as a leader. Empower wisely. Your team will thank you. Your company will be better for it. And quite frankly, you’ll live with a lot less stress knowing that your organization is in a host of good hands other than just your own.