Creatief leiderschap

Empowerment is not to be given, it’s something to be gained

What is your reflection on the impact of your behaviour on your team?
Joris: Since I have been in a position that people ‘report’ to me, I have come to accept that it was expected of me to have a consultation hour every day. Maybe not every day, but at least every other day people would be at my desk requesting decisions. The most common phrases were ‘is it ok if’, ‘I have a problem’ or ‘can you decide’. Being new as a supervisor or manager I accepted this as part of the job.
Obviously my team members weren’t to blame, firstly they believed what that they did was the way things were done, secondly they were responding to my and probably my predecessors behaviour. Although it is contrary to my authentic style of leadership, I had grown used to disturbing the natural flow in my team with questions about status, costs and risks. Naturally this leads to conservative and cautious culture in the team.

Culture thing

What is your reflection on the impact of your behaviour on your team?
Joris: Since I have been in a position that people ‘report’ to me, I have come to accept that it was expected of me to have a consultation hour every day. Maybe not every day, but at least every other day people would be at my desk requesting decisions. The most common phrases were ‘is it ok if’, ‘I have a problem’ or ‘can you decide’. Being new as a supervisor or manager I accepted this as part of the job.
Obviously my team members weren’t to blame, firstly they believed what that they did was the way things were done, secondly they were responding to my and probably my predecessors behaviour. Although it is contrary to my authentic style of leadership, I had grown used to disturbing the natural flow in my team with questions about status, costs and risks. Naturally this leads to conservative and cautious culture in the team.

Insight

What helped you to change these strong patrons?
Joris: By coincidence I watched a video online called ‘Greatness’, which is based on a speech by David Marquet about how he changed the culture on his submarine from leader-follower to leader-leader. The simplicity of the message in this video blew my mind. I subsequently devoured his book and spent nights youtubing videos about intent based leadership.

Most Striking

So, what did you learn from this insight?
Joris: The most striking lesson for me is that empowerment is not to be given. It’s something to be gained. This seems as a small nuance, but has huge implications. As a leader you can only change your own actions and you cannot ‘empower’ your team members. The mechanisms that you have for your team to change their behaviour is through your own behaviour.

Practical tips

If you could bring it down to three action points what would you suggest to do?
Joris: What this means when it comes to empowerment is that you have to create the right environment for people to gain empowerment through your actions. For me this boiled down to three key things I can do myself:

  • Release control – Let he or she who has the knowledge and information get control.
  • Trust my team – Everyone is here to do a good job and when someone (anyone) does make a mistake, learn instead of blame.
  • Be clear on my intent – Make it short and make it simple and never miss out on a chance to share it.

Examples from the field

Do you have some examples how you made your first steps?
Joris: Exercise releasing control by refraining from ad hoc calls with questions about status, instead let your team make suggestions up front about when it fits in their plan to give an update.

Exercise trust by asking the right questions when something went wrong. Don’t ask the who question, but ask the what and how question, showing that you’re eager to learn what went wrong but less interested who it happened to.
This last one is my personal weakness. It is all too easy to get distracted and elaborate whilst that weakens the clarity of your intent. What works for me is to be prepared. Be prepared for one-on-ones, be prepared for meetings, be prepared to explain what your intent is.

Finally; there is no silver bullet, this takes time and effort and its never finished. What makes me push on is the confidence that this works, the small steps of visible change and the increasing energy of my team!

Analyse this

Thank you so much Joris,
When I read this I become anxious to “go out and be great” (like David Marquet would say). That one sentence “empowerment is not to be given. It is something to be gained” says it all, I think. It has all to do with you. Which culture did you step into or did you create, what do you love about it and what is needed to change just that, to gain empowerment. I love the practical steps that you can follow to just try it and be better in what we already do.
I would like to zoom in on these three practical steps and point out the hazards that could disrupt progress and share what could be helpful.

Release control

This is where many leaders struggle. You are the leader, trained to give out orders and be the final decision maker. But if we start to realize that empowerment is gained by doing differently, I hope more leaders will try this one out, to release control. To be able to do this, it helps to start small. Start to ask questions back instead of giving the answers, when someone comes in. It takes more time in the beginning but pays of in a big way.

Trust my team

Simple but not easy. A small mistake, okay, but when it costs money and time, are we still willing to learn or do emotions take over? Or if the upper management starts to push down, do you still take the time to learn from it? I think it helps to be prepared for failure, things will keep on going wrong (somewhere in the future). Prepare yourself so when this moment occurs you can act in the way you want. Train your resilience.

Be clear on my intent

Last year I met a new board member from a big corporate organization and he asked a very simple question on his first board meeting: “Who can give me our ten company values?” No one could give them all. If they can’t recall these values, what can we expect from our employees? Keep it short and simple like Joris suggests and think about what you really want to say, be clear on your intent.

Action

“there is no silver bullet”, Joris said. Of course there isn’t, but start with (one of) these other black bullets:

  • release control,
  • trust my team,
  • be clear on my intent.

What would be your first bullet?

If you would like to see the movie “Greatness” that Joris got inspired from, check the video below. It just takes nine minutes and can change your complete leadership style to empower your people, as you can see 😊.