Empower your team

Good leaders need to empower their employees to have better communication with one another and to feel confident in their decision making. So many businesses I work with tend to have a major bottleneck in the flow of their business in that they have a tendency to defer to the most senior person in the room. There are a couple of ways in which this plays out most commonly; 

  1. An inability to make decisions.  
    If someone needs to make a decision, and they don’t trust their own judgement, they might have a tendency to always escalate it to their manager/ leader to make the decision for them. In these cases the leaders need to question why this might be happening, and also recognise it is not an ideal process.

    Has the manager set up a culture whereby decisions need to be made by him/ her? Is the individual just fearful of making the ‘wrong’ decision due to being reprimanded before? Has the manager made it clear that their team is empowered and encouraged to make decisions in order to keep the work moving along? What can be done to empower employees to use their own judgement and make their own decisions without always defaulting to the more senior person?

    This inability to make decisions is negative because people feel less engaged in their work, it stops the flow of productivity by adding another step to one’s workflow and it removes a degree of innovation and creativity as people become conditioned not to think creatively, or on a strategic level, they just roll out the work based on the judgement and decisions or those more senior. 

  2. An inability to have the conversations that need to be had. 
    A good example of this happening is when two people (or teams/ departments) are working together to get something done. If one of these people/ teams faces a challenge with the other, (for example missed deadlines, work that doesn’t meet the brief) the other party will escalate it to their manager.

    In this instance, the individual effectively escalating the issue often has a tendency to over-inflate the issue at hand to ‘win over’ their manager to their line of thinking in order to initiate support and action from them. Their manager then gets involved, possibly involving the other party’s manager and you have a case where there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Not only is this an ineffective use of people’s time, it creates a hostile ‘them against us’ environment where people don’t trust each other and can feel attacked.  

One of the reasons this tendency to defer to the most senior person in the room may be happening is that we tend to struggle with our ability to have the conversations we need to have. Leaders need to look at the communication processes in their teams and look to find ways to encourage their team to have these conversations, trust their own judgement and be empowered to work collaboratively and trust their own judgement. 

Bill Gore, the founder of W.L. Gore & Associates, frames this concept well and offers a great analogy and way forward for leaders wanting to do this. His “waterline” principle gives a great approach for leaders and employees in regards to decision making and risk taking.

Imagine being on a ship and considering that a poor decision could result in a hole in the ship’s side. If the hole is above the waterline, the ship won’t take on water, allowing you to patch it up, learn from the experience, and continue your journey. However, if the hole is below the waterline, water will pour in, potentially sinking the ship. A large enough hole could cause the ship to sink quickly.

Successful businesses do take significant risks, but they steer clear of risks that could create holes below the waterline. When faced with risky decisions and uncertain data, consider these three questions:

  1. What’s the potential upside if things go well?
  2. What’s the potential downside if things go very badly?
  3. Can you truly live with the downside?

Leaders can empower their team with the ability to make decisions if they fall above the waterline. Couple this with a culture of experimentation, where mistakes are allowed and opportunities to learn, and people will feel more confident in their decision making capacity. And by exercising their judgments more, they will think more strategically and feel more engaged in and accountable for their work. 

Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops?

Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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