Unleash the Power of Your People

I have been around long enough to see buzz-words come and go. Now as it turns out I’ve been around long enough to see some of them that came and went come back again. 

 

One of those words is empowerment. 

 

A couple of decades ago it was said that the Boomer Generation wanted to be empowered to think for themselves and make some decisions. They wanted to feel as if they mattered. They needed to know that their thoughts and opinions carried a little weight….even at their places of employment. 

 

Consultants blanketed companies sharing this wisdom with anyone who would listen. (and pay for it) The business leaders of the day quickly adopted this word as a kind of cure-all for whatever was ailing their organization. 

 

The word hung around for a long time; until people figured out that telling someone they were empowered and actually empowering them were two very different things. 

 

The word faded a bit from prominence but never went away completely. Some organizations were actually successful in empowering their people. For most however it was more of a rallying cry than an actual business strategy. 

 

With all of the “what do Millennials want” research going on the empowerment word is again buzzing about organizations like bees in a flower garden. The research seems to show that one of the key strategies to engage the Millennial generation is to empower them. 

 

So here we go again. Or do we? 

 

My own, albeit somewhat limited, experience with Millennials tells me that they won’t be fooled by mere words. They don’t just want to be empowered, they need to be empowered. They need to matter, they need to make a difference. 

 

If they are not challenged and given the opportunity to grow at the job they have then they will find another place to work. A place that will challenge and empower them. There may not have been plentiful opportunities for Boomers to change jobs 20 years ago but there are tons of opportunities today. If your Millennial employees are not challenged and empowered, for real, they will simply leave.

 

Companies may have been able to get away with talking empowerment in the past but these days they have to actually empower their people. 

 

Empowerment is authorizing a person to think. It is allowing them to take action, control work and make decisions about their job in autonomous, self-directed ways. It is feeling self-empowered to take control of one’s own destiny.

 

If your people have to wait for permission, authority or approval to take action then you may be saying they are empowered but they are not. They absolutely are not. 

 

The reason empowering cultures fail at most organizations is that empowering people comes with a level of risk that most leaders are not willing to accept. I think they figure that because it’s their rear-end on the line that they should be making the decisions. 

 

That’s understandable but it is also a managerial mindset, not a leadership mindset. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to take measured risk. They don’t let their people take crazy chances but they trust the people they hire enough to let them try new things. Even things that they as the leader wouldn’t have tried themselves. 

 

Authentic Leaders let their people think. They know that if everyone is thinking just like them then they aren’t really thinking at all. You must allow and even encourage your people to share their ideas without fear of criticism or consequences. The moment one of your people hesitates to speak up or share an idea is the same moment that empowerment stops. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to make decisions. Even decisions they know are probably wrong. They won’t let them make millions dollar mistakes.  But they know letting them mess up decisions that could cost the company some money can be some of the most cost effective training they will ever receive. 

 

If you’re hiring good people then unleash the power of those people by truly empowering them.  Let them take some risks, let them think and let them make some decisions on their own, even some big decisions from time to time. 


A couple of decades ago companies could get away with talking about empowerment. That won’t work today. If you refuse to empower tomorrow’s leaders today then you put the very life of your organization at risk. 

The Need for Feedback

Some people want feedback on their performance and some people don’t. But if you’re a leader you need to understand this basic fact: ALL people NEED feedback. At least if their performance is going to improve in any significant way.

 

As a leader it is vital that you provide that feedback if you want your people to grow. By the way, if you don’t want you people to grow then stop calling yourself a leader. Just sayin’.

 

This feedback must be fairly consistent and very specific. It can be “scheduled” like during an annual review but it can also be spontaneous, occurring in the moment that you think feedback would be helpful. I should also point out here that if you are providing feedback only during those scheduled annual reviews you’re likely not providing your people with nearly enough feedback to be truly helpful. 

 

Let’s talk about specific feedback. “You need to improve” is NOT feedback, that’s criticism. Feedback involves much more detail. Be as specific as possible about where and how the improvement must occur. Let your people know how you will determine if the improvement has happened. Provide a timeline on when the improvement needs to happen and set a specific date and time to provide updated feedback to confirm that you’ve seen the required change. 

 

Do not ever tell someone they need to improve in a particular area by the end of the month and then leave them wondering if you think their improvement has been sufficient. You need to follow up with additional feedback.

 

I wonder sometimes if the reason so many “leaders” are poor at providing feedback is that they feel giving feedback could lead to confrontation. If you’re a leader who feels that way it could be because you see feedback as something you only provide when improvement or corrective action is required. However, the best leaders provide feedback in all circumstances, bad and good! 

 

It seems most every leader understands the some sort of feedback is required when improvement is needed. What many forget is the it’s also great to provide feedback when things are going well. When you give feedback for a job well done you reinforce the successful actions of your entire team, even if the feedback was provided to a single individual. Feedback for successful actions also needs to be specific, “nice job” barely qualifies as a compliment much less feedback. Tell the person WHY it was a nice job, share with them specifically where they went right and encourage them to continue the effort.

 

A couple of key points here; obviously feedback given to promote corrective action or improvement is best given in private, between you and the person you’re trying to help. Feedback for positive reinforcement can and probably should be given publicly to display a model of successful effort. 

 

Now, back to where we started, some people want your feedback and some people will “resist” your feedback so don’t attempt to force your people to drink from the well of feedback rather inspire them to have a mighty thirst for it. 

 

You inspire them to thirst for feedback by showing them you truly care. By showing them that you have THEIR best interests in mind. 

 

When your people know the feedback is intended FOR them and not directed AT them they will likely become much more receptive. 


One last thing for those of you on the receiving side of feedback. I’ve never in my life received negative feedback. The feedback I received may well have been intended to be negative, I simply refused to receive it that way. That’s a choice and it’s one I would encourage you to make as well.

Leadership Runs Downhill

I am sometimes asked for my opinion on someone’s leadership ability. I usually qualify my answer by reminding the person asking that it really is just an opinion. I can make a highly educated guess but unless I am very familiar with the people the individual leads it really is just a guess. 

I can only provide a truly qualified answer if I understand the level and quality of influence the leader has on their people. Because more than anything else, leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership, is about people. 

I can observe a person’s judgment to provide insight into their leadership ability. I can listen to them as they talk about their vision for the organization and that also helps understand how they might lead. 

I can even watch as they interact with those that they lead to determine the level of interest they actually have in helping their people succeed. But without really knowing what difference they have made in the lives of those they lead, I can’t, and neither can anyone else, really form a complete opinion. 

To receive high “marks” as a leader they must have helped at least one of their people become a leader. No matter what else a leader has accomplished they have not completely succeeded as a leader unless they have built more leaders. Their leadership should run downhill to those they lead. They must transfer part of themselves into and onto their people to help them grow as leaders.

To determine the true effectiveness of a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people they lead. That’s where you’ll discover all you need to know.