The One Mistake Most Managers Make About Empowerment

Whenever I coach with managers, who want to empower their teams they always believe that empowerment means the lifting of rules, giving their teams freedom to do what they see fit.

But actually, to empower teams we have to give them clear limits as to what they are allowed to do. We need to give them a framework in which they can operate, because when we do that, it provides them with some guidance on what is and isn’t allowable.

Just lifting rules can have the opposite effect to that which we desire. When there are no limits or decision framework, our teams can become paralyzed as they no longer know what is or is not a good direction or action to take.

There seem to be two different types of people, those who ask for forgiveness and those who ask for permission before doing something. Those who are happy asking for forgiveness will always feel empowered whether there are rules or limits or not, confident in their ability to make the right decision.

In my experience, the majority of people fall into the latter group, especially in companies which are not forgiving in the light of failure.

They always look to ask for permission first and if there is a good framework, then they can use this to see whether permission would be granted or not. For example, if we tell our teams that they are free to give refunds to customers up to $25 then they know that any refund which is below this amount would normally be approved, so now they can use their judgment to see if the situation merits a refund.

Whereas if there is no guideline they will always be coming back to us to ask for permission, and consequently, they are not empowered.

The benefits of an empowered organization are that we can achieve so much more because the managers are not a bottleneck in the decision-making process.

To create an empowered organization requires a lot of upfront work, setting the limits and the framework, and often the people I have coached have not wanted to do this previously, as they feel this is too much work or too difficult. But when you look at the benefits that can be achieved it’s really a no-brainer.

We just need to ask ourselves what permissible, what are we comfortable delegating regarding authority. We can start small and see how things go, see how comfortable both we and the teams feel, and then look to increase things from there.

The best way to empower teams is to keep things simple, but that doesn’t mean having no rules, it means having a clear and simple framework that everyone understands.

The more we empower our teams, the more they can achieve, and the more freedom we will have as leaders to lead and focus on the bigger picture.  #win-win.


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