The Empowerment Gap: Part 2

We bring a contemporary view on how to lead for change within your organisation. Focusing on relationship dynamics, conversations, group patterns and ingrained mindsets and beliefs.

The Empowerment Gap, Part Two

There is a part one to this, which you can find on the Seasons Consulting website under Thought Leadership.

Leaders, the overloaded powerhouses
Empowerment is well described and intellectually understood. Most of us can explain it in theory. Yet it hardly ever rises beyond mediocrity.

Who would not wish to use full potential, take, and own decisions, and not be pulled back every step of the way? Just recently a Sr.V.P. accountable for € 1,5 billion said to us: “I wish my people would feel more empowered and take more responsibility.” Another quote from quite a frustrated CEO: “I want them to feel empowered. I even offer it, but they do not take it”. These frustrations are real, but unfortunately, many leaders don’t see the consequences of holding on to all the decisions.

When performing outweighs connection and dialogue.
I don’t believe that it is simply old, engrained leadership behaviours that stop leaders from paying more attention to how to give their teams more freedom. On the surface, it can seem that simple, but there is a deeper source.

You’re in charge and in a constant barrage of pressure and an avalanche of demand coming down on you. You often feel it would be great if you had more time to have better conversations with your team, but you don’t. Time for that vanishes. In today’s world, so much goes on that makes the brightest heads spin. Many leaders we meet are close to exhaustion from responding to that avalanche and from being pulled into matters you don’t even want to know about. It drives too much reliance on your intellectual mind and blocks you from your emotional and physical self. Result: you’re disconnecting from others.
When delivering and performing outweigh that essential connection with teams, no gap will ever be closed well.

Leadership reflections to bridge the gap.
If you recognize a good part of yourself in what I have said so far, maybe it is time for you to pause. You have the power to make time so use it. Here are a few steps worth trying:

  1. Reflect and imagine how it would be if you could fully trust and rely on your people to take work and decisions off your plate without losing sleep.
  2. In an approval system team will check regularly, causing many iterations and forcing leaders often to equally many corrections; that can be frustrating and demoralizing.
  3. Therefore one big thing to consider is how you will make your expertise and experience available for the team to work with much earlier in the process so they have it and can use it.
  4. Prepare yourself for a solid conversation, schedule time, hours, not minutes. Part of getting ready is to make your expectations un-ambiguously clear and let the team convince you that ‘they’ve got it”.
  5. Engage and together design that ‘Empowerment Frame’. Conversation, not template! Agree where accountability sits, where lines must be drawn but challenge the team to stretch that even more. How can your team(s) keep moving without having to wait for you to decide or ‘approve’? How can they quickly consult with you and keep you informed? Talk about impact and consequences transparently; create that fresh, unambiguous contract with your teams.
  6. Now step back, you have made your gesture, now observe the response! Listen deeply, coach, and watch your teams grow and DO NOT step right back in at the first instance of imperfection! See what goes right when something goes wrong.

Employees; the under-empowered victims (?)
Someone recently asked me, ‘Is there a ‘right?’ And in this case the answer is a full yes, there are ways to make empowerment happen. Improving your Empowerment frame will take effort but when organizations get it right, miracles happen. What you will feel and measure are: increased self-esteem, higher confidence, flow in processes, shorter timelines, increased quality, more productive relationships, higher energy, and mental bandwidth. True Empowerment pays off. Great concept, a no-brainer; what blocks it?

“I am the head of this market, and I should have bigger decision rights! I am always operating beneath my pay grade,” says the country head of a multi-billion FMCG outfit.
A regional sales lead says, “Every attempt I made to get more operating space fails. I am just not getting through”.

What is going on here?
There is a ruling belief of how it should be. “My boss should just let go of some power and let me deal with it. I am good for it, why doesn’t she see that?”.
The classical whining and claiming only increases the trust gap and the ‘fed-upness’ between leaders and teams. Aren’t we all too valuable to let ourselves down that way?

So, next level downers, what can you do to become next level uppers?
The way out of the impasse starts with you; you have power already; you are just not using it well. It is not one or the other stakeholder that can do it alone. You must eliminate ambiguity, get rid of directives nobody buys into, and change poorly expressed expectations. You must change your end of the conversation. You need to know your target condition and, crucially, what you are allowed to decide, where you would draw lines, and how you will consult your leaders to pull their rich expertise, which they have, in earlier. Be ridiculously clear and precise about all this. You need to be willing to stand for you and your team making important decisions, if not the final call. Set up your alert system to not miss out and to know when to consult again; do this rather early than late but do not give control away!

If you recognize a good part of yourself in what I have said so far, maybe it is time for you to pause. You have the power to make time so use it. Here are a few steps worth trying:

  1. Imagine and share with the team how it would make you feel if you were more deeply trusted, and when your boss would be pleased when you decide more and execute without waiting while keeping her/him informed? Could more clearly define your accountability and how others can rely on you for it? Where do you have to step up a notch and get more reliable?
  2. How can you re-package your proposals in more robust ways that show the undeniable benefits for the business and turn that into a great story to sell.
  3. Which words can you choose to use, or stop using, to increase the chance you are heard and understood to get the level of trust you must have to feel empowered?
  4. As a team, how do you step up the courage ladder and stand firm, back each other up, whilst also holding each other accountable for delivery?
  5. Prepare yourself for the conversation, schedule time, hours, not minutes.

When there is no empowerment going on, it’s easy to lose hope and succumb to the leadership hierarchy, where the leader sets the premise, and the employees, follow through mindlessly. But let us remind you. Your voice is your power, and your ability to boldly set forth a proposal is your strength. Use this strength and voice what you need to complete the empowerment situation. Once you do, please pay attention to its massive impact on yourself, your team, and your leader.

We are standing by to support you on this journey.
The Seasons Consulting Team.