Authority. It is the confidence and power to act and make decisions. It is, at the basic level, empowerment. Generally, we think of ‘authority’ as something that belongs to the boss. However, every time that the boss decides to delegate a task or assignment, they are also delegating the authority to make decisions on that task. We often think of effective leadership as a hands-on activity. But if we keep our hands and thoughts spread over too many tasks, we’re not only undervaluing and overworking ourselves—we’re doing the same to our employees. It can be a daunting task to let go of the wheel and let someone else drive for a while. So how can we as leaders empower our employees while making sure we stay secure in our role as leaders?
Believe in Yourself
A common worry among leaders is that by empowering their employees, those employees will manage to outperform you. It’s easy to fall into the trap that an employee doing an exemplary job translates into a commentary about the shortcomings of your own ability. Really, the truth is the exact opposite. I am always thrilled when my employees operate at a level that sometimes outpaces my own abilities. It builds me a reputation as a leader who surrounds myself with competent and empowered people. Before delegating, simply ask yourself: Who gets the most work done in their area? Who has created a record of hard work and service? I’ve found that the more I empower my people, the longer that list grows, and the more options I have in delegating tasks throughout my team.
The Long Haul
The nature of running a business is to accept that there will be some level of turnover. However, empowering employees and giving them more responsibilities, both big-picture and day-to-day, can create a sense of ownership in your team’s work. They are more likely to find a higher rate of satisfaction with their job, and put more effort in. When team members within your company feel that they have a say and that their voices are heard, they’re more likely to stay working within your company versus going out and seeking a new opportunity. This will also help to build a reputation for your business, and this reputation can in turn help attract promising new talent to join your corporate team.
Taking a Step Back
Still, it can be hard to take your hands off the wheel and take a step back. Most of us started in positions where our bosses once empowered us—that’s how we ended up in leadership roles. You had the technical know-how and skills as an employee. Now, your job performance is judged almost entirely on making decisions and getting work done through others. There’s more security in doing a task yourself versus passing it along to a member of your team. When these anxieties happen, remind yourself that it’s good your team is more proficient at a task than you are. They are the ones doing the job on a regular basis, who are neck deep in the thick of things. Your job is now the big picture—by empowering your team to take greater responsibility, you are ensuring that they are able to handle the details.
With all this in mind, it’s important to remember that your team may be hesitant to take on more responsibility at first. For instance, I once had an employee who was reluctant to make definitive decisions. He was unused to the level of empowerment I was wishing to give him. He asked permission to do something, and I got out of my chair, laid on the floor, folded my arms across my chest, and asked him, “If I were dead, what would you do?” I told him his answer sounded good, and he went on his way. This is the real test of leadership—if your employees need you to keep the company running, something has gone wrong. A better business run like a well-oiled machine, and through empowering your team you can ensure that it will last the test of time, no matter what complications arise along the way.