- 23 August 2023
- Posted by: M-author
- Categories: Leadership, Workplace
Few of us like being told what to do and micro-managed, we prefer to understand the goal and use our skills to contribute to it. There is evidence that employee satisfaction increases under empowering leadership, but is it effective at boosting productivity?
What is Empowering Leadership?
Empowering leadership is about giving everyone a sense of ownership in a shared mission. This is where leaders present the goal and invite ideas from the team about how it might be achieved and what’s needed to make it happen. Following this, there is agreement on how each individual will contribute, based on their skills and strengths.
In addition, empowering leadership accepts that not everyone works in the same way. Therefore, the focus is on outcomes, rather than specifying the route to those outcomes. Employees are given time frames and boundaries, yet there is a degree of freedom about how they work.
If you are used to the structured framework of bureaucratic leadership, or the absolute power of autocratic leadership, this collaborative approach can feel risky. How do you relinquish control, yet feel confident that the task or project will be completed to expected standards? Will employees take advantage? As a result, will productivity decline?
In other cases, the leader might see empowering employees as an easy ride. Surely, if decisions are made by the team and everyone is free to work independently, responsibilities and workload are greatly reduced!
Coaching Rather than a Laissez-Faire Approach
I suggest that an important factor in successful empowerment is to accept this isn’t a hands-off, Laissez-Faire approach. Instead, it requires a shift from manager to coach.
Know your Team
Firstly, you need to understand your employees:
– What motivates them?
– Where do their skills lie?
– How do they perform in different scenarios?
– What might hinder their performance?
– Who do they work well with?
It’s a process of relationship building. Take a genuine interest in getting to know your team and build both respect and trust. Use the insight gained to allocate responsibilities, monitor progress and maintain momentum.
Equip your Team
Secondly, the team need access to the resources that equip them to undertake their role. This may include physical items but also covers sources of support, parameters of their role and clear expectations. In addition, it can cover training and development opportunities.
Thirdly, it’s important to provide opportunities for open communication. Ask how things are going, if they have what they need and whether they are facing challenges. Equally, be available for them to approach you to raise questions, concerns or achievements.
The Role of Psychological Safety in Empowering Employees
An overnight shift in your leadership style does not equate to empowered employees. They need an environment of psychological safety to be confident to work independently. So, what is psychological safety?
Psychological safety at work is having a workplace culture where people feel able to speak up, express ideas, ask questions, raise concerns or admit mistakes. As a result, employees build trust that being open will not be detrimental to them. Instead, everyone recognises that fresh ideas, challenges and learning by doing are natural parts of the development process.
Therefore, empowering leadership is also about creating psychological safety. A non judgemental work environment where negative attitudes of other employees are challenged. Take action to ensure everyone feels valued and part of a collective. It’s only when this is achieved that people feel empowered in decision making, problem solving and achieving outcomes.
The Benefits of Empowering Leadership
To make the effort worthwhile, there needs to be clear benefits to empowering leadership. So, is there evidence of this?
A study published in Frontiers* highlighted the correlation between psychological empowerment and lower levels of burnout. Staff sickness and turnover were reduced, whilst performance and professional growth were heightened. We all know they are desirable business outcomes!
Increased Job Satisfaction
A separate Harvard Business Review study** evidenced that empowered employees reported higher job satisfaction, commitment and performance levels. When empowering leaders offered employees a greater sense of autonomy and control over their work, their job felt more meaningful. As a result, they were more willing to contribute, collaborate and be involved through choice, rather than for reward.
Motivation, Creativity & Development
Underpinning the impact of empowerment was the perception of the leader. In situations of mutual trust, respect and psychological safety, empowerment drives motivation, creativity and development. However, in other cases, it was viewed as the leader lightening their workload, burdening the staff and causing stress. Be involved and proactive as a leader, otherwise employees will become demotivated and you may not get the expected response when you ask them to get more involved.
Becoming an Empowering Leader
To become an empowering leader, it is important to understand your current leadership style. Gather anonymous feedback from your team to provide insight into whether their perception matches yours. Be open to that feedback, as it’s a learning opportunity. Then, work with a business psychologist to adapt your behaviour and approach in ways that encourage greater openness and trust.
In addition, understand whether psychological safety is embedded in your organisation. To achieve this, I offer a psychological safety assessment which all team members can complete. Find the gaps and make improvements to bring everyone on board.
With these foundations in place, your business can reap the rewards of creative, committed and productive employees.