Five Steps to an Empowering Culture for Your Team
When I started in business about 25 years ago and when I was completing my MBA the word “empowerment” was a major buzz word as it is still today. No one denies that a management style in which our team is empowered will lead to greater success. Then why don’t we do it more often?
The truth is, most leaders and managers believe they are empowering their employees. What I tend to see are leaders only empowering their team off and on with conditions. As a business owner with several hundred employees, I was both pervee to seeing this first hand and through my interactions with hundreds of other business owners and managers over the years. What I quickly learned was most companies and leaders I observed claimed a culture of empowerment but didn’t genuinely follow through with it. As a matter of fact, I observed more often than not, that the claiming a culture of empowerment without follow through was worse than never trying it in the first place.
Up until recently I owned and chain of tire and auto dealerships in Illinois and Iowa. We had grown into a decent size company and over time had some clear values that became part of our culture. One value was for the team to never fear a mistake.
The definition of empowerment is granting of power, right or authority to perform various acts or duties. I took every word of this definition seriously and to heart. Below are five steps to an empowering culture.
1) Don’t be afraid to give up control
When creating a team centered around the value of empowering one another you have to learn to give up control, as fearful as you may be to do so. The lessons learned in this time will help your team members grow, learn and develop into the best they can be. The fear never goes away but over time you begin to trust the process.
2) Even if you think you can do it better let someone else learn
If we don’t let people make mistakes then we’ll never know what they are capable of. We don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future but we do have experience. None of us are the same level as we were 10 years ago. The reason is experience – the cumulative process of learning. Most of our experience comes from what we learn when we make mistakes. The sooner you put someone with talent into fire, the quicker you accelerate the learning.
3) You have to learn how to delegate
Why some leaders are better or worse than others at delegating is still something that is unclear to me. I feel it’s deeper than training and actually gets into the psyche of people and their core make-up. Nonetheless, it’s a major reason why companies have a hard time truly empowering their team. Learning to delegate not only frees up your own time but in the end encourages your employees to take the next step in their career and role within the company.
4) Learn to be long-term minded
I think not having the ability to focus on the long-term is the biggest reason why we struggle with true empowerment. The reason you empower your team is to build people. Building people takes time and can be costly because mistakes will inevitably happen. In today’s business climate, we are moving from one job, department and career to another. It is very difficult to fully commit to empowering a team member if you think you won’t be with them in a year. We live in a world with short attention spans for business cycles – living month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter if you are a public company. This current business climate is a challenge from the get-go when trying to foster a culture of true empowerment. It is more palatable to let people fail when we know we will recoup the losses from their mistakes over time and in turn gain an amazing culture.
5) Culture isn’t easy to cultivate but worth your effort
Over the years I was witness to some of people’s amazing stories in our company. I often think what would our company have operated like if we had not had that culture. Having a great culture is never easy. Watching someone wasting money failing just to learn a lesson is not easy, but I can assure you it’s worth it. If you are truly wanting to have your team succeed and you have a long-term vision, take a hard look at your own management style. Are you empowering conditionally with words mixed with action or are you empowering with your actions?