The Value of Empowerment

January 19th, 2018

Too often, new and inexperienced managers step into the role with an attitude that seems to make sense at first: “If I just work extra hard and maintain total control, nothing can go wrong.” They then proceed to hover relentlessly over their direct reports, not allowing a single mistake, a single moment of idle time, or a single lapse in productivity. They stay late, double check every project, and insist on being kept in every loop. Then they fail. And that’s when they begin to understand the value of empowerment. If you see a bit of yourself in this profile, take a step back and keep these key considerations in mind.

Refuse to be afraid of mistakes.

Or rather, don’t let your fear of mistakes control your decisions. Your direct reports are definitely going to mess up sometimes. And when they do, you’ll take ownership of their mistakes, like good leaders should. But mistakes have great value. The more your employees make, they more they’ll learn. And the sooner they start the cycle of mistakes and learning, the faster they’ll gain competence, personal investment, and meaningful, hard-earned skills.

Hard work isn’t always the answer.

Sometimes hard work wins the prize, and harder work wins even more and bigger prizes. But sometimes this isn’t the case at all. Recognize when it’s time to let go and trust others—even those who work under your aegis. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your team is step back and let them engage directly to solve a thorny problem on their own.

Free your hands and free your time.

If you constantly hover and micromanage, you may prevent a few clerical errors or squeeze a few more minutes of productivity out of your team. But at what cost? The time you spend devoted to this endeavor should really be invested in tasks that only you can take on—the kinds of planning, mission-focused, or concept based items that can’t be delegated or outsourced to others. If you give yourself time to focus fully on these tasks and do them well, you’ll be advancing the interests of your company and your own career. If you get bogged down in actions that can and should be handled by your team, both of you will be held back.

Listen and learn.

When your teams need the kind of help that only you can provide, of course you should listen and support them. Provide the resources, data, and guidance they need. But as a manager, sometimes what they really need from you is a quiet sounding board. Allow your teams to talk first. Chime in when it’s time.

For more management and coaching tips, turn to the recruiting team at PSU.

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