Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Empowerment Zone

Welcome to...the "Empowerment Zone!"

This is the place in which employees are given the freedom to make decisions, to take action without needing to seek permission, to operate freely with the full backing and consent of management. This is the place where we all want to work. This is the place that most of us say we have created for our respective teams.

Well...let me first say what empowerment is NOT. Empowerment is not putting someone in a new position, handing them an incredibly difficult problem, pushing them out on a ledge...AND LEAVING THEM ALONE! That is NOT empowerment. That is abandonment.

Unfortunately, many leaders think that by leaving people unsupervised, not bothering them, they have followed the business leader's doctrine for empowerment. They know they are supposed to do it. So...if they leave them alone, they are empowering them.

Entrance into the empowerment zone requires three keys. Without each of them, you are not are abandoning.

1. Education. People need the necessary skills and tools to operate in the empowerment zone. If we want them to make decisions, they need to understand the decision-making process and the intent of their leaders. They need training in order to gain the appropriate level of competence for their position. They need leadership training and communication skills. They need the tools and resources necessary to function. Bottom line - it does people no good to push them out on the ledge without the basic necessities.

2. Opportunity. Empowerment comes from putting people in position to grow. Developmental assignments and challenging projects offer the opportunity to function in the empowerment zone. They need increasingly longer leashes to demonstrate the understanding of how to apply the skills and tools we have provided them. Bottom line -- there is no substitute for the learning that comes from OJT (On the Job Training). But..these opportunities are only chances for failure, disappointment, and disillusionment if they are not accompanied by the tools that enable success.

3. Feedback. Empowering people requires leaders to cycle back and provide feedback. People in the empowerment zone need to know that they are doing well, meeting (or exceeding expectations), and functioning within our intent. If they are not on the right track, a course correction that provides positive, encouraging alignment will make all the difference. Praise, followed by training and guidance, helps keep people motivated and confident -- key to life in the empowerment zone.

That's it. There's probably more (and I hope you'll share them with me), but these three steps are the difference between empowerment and abandonment. Education + Opportunity + Feedback = Empowerment. All three keys are necessary to unlock the Empowerment Zone. Providing teammates all three will indeed serve as the entrance into the world in which people can confidently and capably operate without guidance, make appropriate decisions, and take the sort of aggressive actions that can make good teams great. Empowerment is Leader Business!


Joshua U said...

Exactly. Empowerment isn't abandonment. People actually need to be uplifted through resources and feedback.

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Tom,

Funny thing is that much of what you advocate is similar to the "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan's philosophy of leading a pack ... of canines. The notion that empowerment isn't abandonment is important, as you note.

I also think that often employers are quick to criticize employees for their failures, but more rarely give compliments. This may also impact actually how the employer/boss sees the employee. If the employee makes a mistake and is called for it, but two days later does remarkable work that goes unpraised, not only does the employee feel their work is not fairly assessed, but the boss might not actually take the positive into mind when mentally assessing the employee. No one focused on the "good boy" moments, and only the "bad dog" ones.

While we humans are not canines, we still have animal components to how we function psychologically and emotionally. Contrary to the assumption these are higher brain functions, they are often more basic ones out of the more primative parts of the brain. Remember that "good dogs" are as important as "no's" or "bad dogs" for those under your command can ensure that the rest of the pack maintains engagement in the mission. Dogs that feel appreciated by their owners are often willing to fight to the death to defend them. Such loyalty in command is not a bad thing.


John Bishop said...

This is a good topic and especially in this "virtual" world we work in where the boss, team and leader might all be in different geographic locals!

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you highlighting is the essential confusion in empowerment. It doesn't mean leave people alone. Quite the opposite. It means staying engaged, mentoring, providing feedback, and ensuring that our teammates have all the skills and tools they need to be successful. Hooah!

Tom Magness said...

Hey James,
I appreciate you comparing me to the "Dog Whisperer!" Ha! We all need a "Good Dog" compliment to know that we re on the right track and that we are valued. For your excellent comment, I give you a -- "Good Dog" note of praise! Thanks James. Hooah!

Tom Magness said...

Great point, John. True empowerment becomes even more difficult to differentiate from abandonment when we are geographically separated. That really raises the bar on leaders to cycle through and keep people connected. Phone calls, emails, hand-written notes -- all will help those empowered teammates know that they are not alone! Thanks for stopping by. Hooah!