Eric Strafel is founder of SUMMi7, a consulting firm in Dallas, and the author of The Frontline CEO.
The outdated top-down model of leadership led to employees being more focused on blindly aiming to please rather than thinking for themselves. To get the most out of your team, train them how to succeed by showing you believe in them.
Empowerment is an ongoing process of learning and development for your employees. As a leader, you must create the conditions that allow this to happen, which requires a shift in mindset from thinking like a manager to thinking like a coach.
A manager usually delegates tasks, leads meetings, collects input, makes strategic decisions, and more. These are necessary, but a heavy-handed management style can stifle employees’ development. They will become so accustomed to having you provide road maps or scheduling every aspect of their day that they will have a hard time thinking creatively on their own.
Instead of micromanaging your employees, empower them by providing clear direction and guidance on priorities. Set goals that align with company objectives, gain an understanding of their challenges, and enable them to work it out on their own. Be available to answer their questions but give them the space to make decisions. That gives them the opportunity to practice on their own and make mistakes—and learn from them—so they can grow.
Any sports fan knows that there are hundreds of different coaching styles. You can find success with the hyper-professional Zen of Phil Jackson, legendary former coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, or the high-energy exuberance of Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks. No matter your style, there are two fundamental ways a successful coaching strategy is built. The first is setting a high, clear bar for your team members, which shows that you believe in them. The second is doing everything you can to help them achieve that standard, which demonstrates your commitment to their success.
Instead of micromanaging your employees, empower them by providing clear direction and guidance on priorities.
Set specific goals with your team members. If the goal is quality, discuss what quality looks like for their position, what it looks like for the people supporting them, and what can be measured daily or weekly that would indicate how well they’re meeting that objective.
When they know which metrics they’re striving to improve, they can see more opportunities. They can find and fix design flaws in a product. They can say, “Hey, maybe the material we’re getting isn’t high-quality enough.” Or they can find places to streamline the supply chain and automate processes. To take it a step further, encourage them to set their own goals. This will help them establish ownership and increase motivation to achieve those goals.
The high bar you set should include more than just quantitative individual goals. Be sure to make it also the quantitative and qualitative successes that the entire company is working toward. And then coach your team to help them achieve those ambitious goals. Remember, there are few things more toxic than a leader who asks a lot from their team, and then makes it almost impossible for them to deliver. If you do that, your employees will feel like you’re just setting them up to fail.
On the other hand, if you set a high bar with your team and then support them by investing time and resources, you show that you believe in them. This belief alone is empowering, and makes employees feel valued, challenged, and excited at work, even before they start to see their goals come to fruition. With your support, when they achieve those goals, that moment will significantly increase their own confidence and sense of empowerment within the organization.
You can support their development in lots of ways. The most obvious are new training and skill development programs, or giving them the resources (money, technology, time, access, information) they need to succeed. For example, you could share aspects of your experience, or help them develop relationships within the company and the industry, so that they can expand their personal networks and learn from their peers.
A quick note: you can only ask your employees to do all this extra work to continuously learn if you make an equal, consistent effort to grow yourself. They are all experts at their jobs, and you can learn just as much from them as they do from you. You should also invest time in development programs for yourself, to embody a commitment to continuous learning that will inspire others to follow.
All of this is in stark contrast to the top-down model, which requires employees to fit a mold and be programmed into a machine. Doing that creates people who are expected to execute orders instead of contributing input of their own. Successful coaching not only requires you to challenge your employees to excel, but you must also demonstrate that you believe in them by supporting their efforts. It’s a win-win situation for all.