What it Means to Empower Employees

What it Means to Empower Employees

Members of healthy relationships have equal power. Our most egalitarian relationships may be found with our spouses, close friends and peers, and business partners.

Relationships with unequal power tend to be found in parent-child relationships—and often with our direct reports. Hierarchical teams are built for one “leader” to have more power than their team members.

Redistributing power is a win-win: Leaders can have great business results and a happy team, while individual members get autonomy, learning opportunity, and career progression.

We hear the calls to action on “empowering your team”—but what does this really mean, and how does this translate to results?

What does it mean to have power?

Power means feeling self-confident, optimistic, and less stressed. Those with power set goals, focus on outcomes, seize opportunities, and take action.

The opposite—powerlessness—means feeling unconfident, uncertain, and more stress. Those without power take fewer risks, have a poor workplace outlook, and shy away from opportunity. Powerlessness at work is correlated with low psychological safety.

When a leader abuses their power, whether consciously or not, they are able to:

  • Openly express their thoughts, without regard for others’ views or reaction
  • Assert their plans and decisions, without accommodating others’ inputs or needs
  • Take charge and act, without enabling or supporting others

How can we give more power to our teams?

Fortunately, power is dynamic and fluid—not static. We can give power to our employees. The fluid nature of power means opportunities exist for any ambitious person desiring to advance the organization.

Common ways we can give power:

  • Clarifying goals and outcomes. Leaders can collectively agree with their teams on priorities—instead of creating them in a cave and declaring them in an all-hands. Asking employees questions like, “What do you think the priorities should be?” helps the best ideas win.
  • Delegating responsibility. Leaders can be clear about who owns what—but leave it to each individual to determine how to do it. Enabling each individual to work autonomously increases speed and creates a sense of ownership.
  • Creating rituals. Leaders can establish team rituals to reset and reflect. Weekly team meetings, monthly all-hands, quarterly business review, annual retreats—these are all opportunities to give context.
  • Creating boundaries. Leaders can give permission for employees to set their own work schedule and not be expected to be “on” all the time—even if you are.
  • Giving information. Leaders can give resources, training, tool, and stories from your experience. Transparent information removes bottlenecks in decision-making.
  • Advancing the organization. Leaders can ensure teams work together to accelerate the organization—not one leader’s egocentric career goals.
  • Avoiding taking power. As simple as it sounds—leaders can stop controlling and forcing others to do things.

Create team autonomy

Flexibility, autonomy, and a sense of belonging and inclusion at work are the leading drivers of employee happiness. This is important for start-ups and teams that care about moving fast with low overhead.

Think about it: are you stuck in meetings all day telling people what to do, or are you seeing consistent results every week?

Cultivating an environment where our teams are comfortable in their power, combined with our effort to give power, creates a win. We may find we experience more discretionary time on our hands and growing metrics as a result.

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