Updated: Aug 15, 2019
In our “Be a Better L.E.A.D.E.R.” series the foremost trait of becoming a better leader is to lead with LOVE. However, another important trait of a great leader is the ability to EMPOWER your team members. These following 5 steps can help you start.
Assign clear responsibilities and roles that don’t overlap.
Emphasize team's strengths and give more authority.
Create an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.
Be open to new ideas.
When my boys were younger and I was a less experienced parent, one time I ordered them to clean up the kitchen by the time I returned from the grocery store. An hour or so later, not only did I find the kitchen still messy, but I entered a battle ground. My younger son was in tears complaining about his older brother not helping. The older one was claiming he did. And the tension only escalated with more insults and blame passing between them. It felt as if I was watching a ping-pong match with no end in sight. At this point, annoyed and irritated myself, I raised my voice and started spouting empty threats.
To make matters worse, because I was a bit impatient, I would often clean up the mess behind them and place items back where they belonged. One time after chastising my eight-year-old for misplacing my favorite mug, he hesitantly voiced his complaint, "Mom, how do I know that you want that mug to be in that cabinet when you have three places you hold the mugs?” He raised a good point that made me think about why I was holding on to so many mugs. And why was I overreacting when he broke one and had to hide from me the next time he broke a glass for fear of the repercussions?
It doesn’t make me feel any better to recall the times when I would refold the laundry behind my older son’s back only moments later. He would of course notice, and then he'd put less and less effort each time, which only made me more angry.
It pains me to even recall this period of my parenting! But hang in there, there is hope! You can learn a lot from my mistakes.
Exhausted from listening to them argue and blaming one another and even me, I decided to change things around. I started running my household like I would run my team.
1. Assign clear responsibilities and roles that don’t overlap.
When I separated responsibilities for my kids so that they were no longer cleaning the same spaces, everything got better. Once they knew exactly what they were responsible for and were given a flexible timeframe, they accomplished their chores with ease. No tension, no blame. It’s no different than with our team members.
Delegating work is a skill that needs to be honed and we should all train in it. But it’s not enough to delegate. We need to designate a task, area, or department to each member so that they can be responsible for it. This will help them achieve goals, and produce results which in turn will make them feel more empowered and motivated.
2. Emphasize team's strengths and give more authority.
Chores like dishes that my younger son liked doing were disliked by my older boy. So he preferred taking trash and doing laundry. I was okay with that since that way they both contributed to being part of the household without resentment.
That is the same way we should treat our team members. If they are not comfortable with sales, don’t insist on forcing them, because personality is hard to teach. The role for introverted members might be better off somewhere where they had to deal less with people and more with projects. Rather identify what they are good at and give them more responsibilities and authority in that area. Just make sure that you have adequate training for those who are willing to learn something outside of their comfort zone.
3. Create an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.
When my eight year old took over the dishes as his primary chore, there were many dishes broken and items misplaced. But, when he broke a thin wine glass again, instead of yelling I would just take a deep breath and tell myself it’s just a glass. The $5 loss is a small price to pay for the life long habit of washing dishes after meals. Instead I told him that accidents happen and showed him that the top rack is the best place for the thin glasses.
That wasn’t the first or the last dish broken, of course, but over time it was less frequent and he was no longer afraid to tell me. Four years later he is a dish-washing master. He does a better job than me. As for misplacing the items, we no longer have three places for one type of item. We Konmari-ed our kitchen and designated one place for each item.
The same is true with a team. It’s hard to learn in an environment that is tense and where we are afraid of making mistakes. By eliminating confusion such as where to put "items with multiple homes," things can drastically improve. Breaking down big projects into small tangible ones with deadlines will help the team members feel successful once they see fast results. No small task should take more than two weeks to accomplish. You don’t want to leave them to work on a long term project without helping them break it into small achievable goals. And, celebrate their achievements when they’ve reached certain milestones.
4. Encourage creativity.
One of the hardest things for me to learn as a leader is to let go of control, to stop micromanaging and to give my team room to be creative. Humans are born creative! Little kids are the most creative because they have no boundaries to their imagination. They’re not afraid to express themselves. Over time our creativity diminishes by lack of encouragement and practice. Environments like some traditional schools where kids have to adhere to strict rules and are punished for not sticking to traditional ways of doing things can cause them to withdraw and stop thinking outside the box.
So make sure you clearly communicate the goals, deadlines and expectations for your team, but don’t tell them how to do it. They will most likely surprise you with some creative solutions!
5. Be open to new ideas.
Team members will have new ideas and suggestions that sometimes sound brilliant and other times less so, but in either case you should value and respect the person by listening to them even when you don’t agree with them. You want team members to know that their input matters. When they don’t feel that, they lose motivation and will shutdown, just like my older son when I refolded laundry after him. I asked how can I make him feel successful, but still solve the problem. He suggested to reduce the amount and instead of folding to hang the clothes. Problem solved!
With a loving approach, and a bit of effort on our part, nothing will motivate our team better than a sense of empowerment in the work environment. In fact, according to a recent study on Happiness published in the Harvard Business Review, our sense of accomplishment at work is closely intertwined with our sense of satisfaction and happiness in general.
So let’s lead with love, empower our teams and spread the happiness around!