The power of empowerment

For many of us it is hard to let go and to transfer responsibility or even decision power to somebody else, basically to provide empowerment. A lot of people still think that first of all only they know exactly what to do, how to do it and, more importantly, how to do it much better than anybody else. Because we are the experts, we have the experience, we have the position, we have the age, or even all of it. But maybe it is only just insecurity and hence we want to be in control of everything? Here is a great quote from the late Steve Jobs:

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Things need to be under control

This quote sounds so obvious, and for sure every manager, maybe with a few exceptions, will immediately agree with this statement. But unfortunately it very often does not reflect the reality. How many times I have seen managers hiring people far too junior with no or little experience for a certain position. These managers typically want something like a team of soldiers, whom they can tell exactly what to do and how to do it. And they rarely consider to accept an opinion from their team, not to even mention proposals on how to do something different. For sure, there are areas where people need to work exactly according to strict guidelines, like in production or testing. Or also in military, as I used the word soldiers before. But even in those areas one would be surprised about the results, if only a small room of freedom and flexibility would be provided.

Control over confidence

In the last few years and still today you can read and hear a lot about agile work environments. But at the same time within these so-called agile environments you sometimes can observe control of details at its very best. Controlling first of all means that there is no trust. No trust in the people themselves and no trust in their capabilities. But, as said earlier already, very often it is also a sign of insecurity on the manager’s side. Why do I hire somebody or promote somebody into a position with wider responsibility, if I do not trust the person, that he or she is able to handle this responsibility? Why do I create an organization in another part of the world with local management structures, if I tell them exactly what they have to do and how to do it? It does not bring any real results and it demotivates the respective team, which then again creates bad results. A vicious circle.

The framework must be clear

Just to clarify, I am not talking about a laissez-faire management style, I am talking about empowerment to make decisions. The framework for these decisions needs to be defined, the overall strategy needs to be clear and the expected goals and results need to be clearly communicated. For example, your sales plan is X, your maximum headcount is Y and your marketing budget is Z. Now go and build your strategy and your local business around that. I know this sounds really simple. But unfortunately very often it is not, because you might not have hired competent people to execute that or you as a manager have sleepless nights due to the fact that you might not know in every detail, what your team is doing.

Empowerment creates innovation

In my 30 years of experience as a manager, having been responsible for diverse and distributed teams around the world, I have been always convinced that empowerment creates great teams and great results. Empowerment is the best tool to develop your employees and to unleash their real potential. For sure people will make mistakes, but this is part of it. It is a well-known and proven fact that we learn most from our mistakes. If you empower people to make their own decisions, they will actually make less mistakes as they feel more responsible. But they will be much more creative, more innovative and so will be your company.

Empowerment builds trust

I know Steve Jobs was probably not the best people manager, but he undoubtedly was a great leader. Here is another famous quote from him:

My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

I am strongly convinced that you make people better by empowering them, by giving them responsibility, by really challenging them. That is, what motivates people. They will do their absolute best not to disappoint you. Why? Because they feel that you really trust them. And the trust you give them will turn into strong commitment from their side, and ultimately they will also trust you.

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