Picking up from where I left off last week, the third mistake that leaders keeping making right now is that they forget that getting rid of obstacles to change does not equal empowering others to act. It may help, but it is not the same thing. For example, when we get rid of obstacles that block action, we may have to deal with disempowering bosses who withhold or do not provide key information. We also may have to deal with structural barriers such as too many layers of management where people second guess and criticize actions being taken. We may even have to re-examine our performance measurement and reward systems. When we take these actions, we send a signal to others in the company that change is going to happen.
But one result of removing all of the barriers to change can be people feeing like deer-in-the-headlights, overwhelmed and fearful. From past experience, we know that what we believe, experience and observe all influence our actions. When barriers are removed, some people will experience an undercurrent of fear even if the changes are good and important to be made. For these people, the problems you know are better than the ones you do not know.
On the other hand, when we empower others, there has to be psychological safety which is the combination of emotional support and assistance in problem solving. This will involve on-going coaching and on-going communication and dialogue. Through this level of sharing and analyzing, goals are clarified and important learning takes place.
From my experience, empowered people have confidence in their ability and their knowledge, and in their team and their company. They believe they can make the right decisions and they believe they are role modeling what is most important. Furthermore, empowered people can make choices about how to achieve predetermined outcomes and goals. They believe they are engaged in meaningful work. In short, empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to have the confidence and clarity to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes, i.e. meaningful work.
Stephen Covey in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004) reports that empowerment is held back by the following factors:
- 97% - Managers afraid to let go
- 93% - Misaligned systems
- 92% - Manager lacks skills
- 80% - Employees lack skill
Given the above, leaders who want to empower more people and to teach them new behaviors must take the following steps.
First, we need to get better at role-modeling. We must be trustworthy, and routinely build greater levels of personal, strategic and organizational trust, plus improve our own character and competence.
Next, we need to get better at creating a shared understanding of vision, strategy, mission, vision, and core values. This will only happen if we are willing to schedule the time for a greater level of strategic dialogue.
Then, we need to get better at aligning people, systems and expectations. The better we clarify our expectations the better people will perform.
The fourth leadership mistake we keep making is that leaders often forget that building a team is not the same as maintaining a team. In the beginning, the goal of most teams is about defining a common problem and solving it. Ruth Wageman, Debra A. Nunes, James A. Burruss and J. Richard Hackman in their book, Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great, Harvard Business School Press, 2008, write that we need the right people and a compelling direction that is clear, challenging and consequential if we are seeking better levels of team work. They also point out that we need a solid structure, i.e. define exactly what the team is to do strategically, a supportive context, i.e. access to the resources they need, and some team coaching which will help them to evolve, learn, and grow over time.
But building a team is not maintaining a team. The later requires us to “build heritage relationships,” i.e. build relationships before you need them and then focus on staying connected to them once they are on the team, role modeling collaborative behavior before, during, and afterwards, making sure team leaders are both task and relationship oriented, plus helping team leaders to understand the challenges of role clarity and task ambiguity. For more detail on this subject, I suggest you read the following article, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, Harvard Business Review, November 2007.
Remember: practice empowering more people, doing a better job of role modeling new behaviors, and maintaining your teams. It will make a world of difference.