In an earlier blog post on the topic of quiet quitting, I made a case for servant leadership—leaders who serve their people by helping them realize that quiet quitting (disengagement at work) is not the answer. Servant leaders establish a safe, caring environment, let people know how valuable they are as individuals, ask them what they need, listen to their answers, and work side by side with them on a solution.
I want to go one step further today with another goal for organizations run by servant leaders: creating a culture of empowerment.
Empowerment is an organizational climate that unleashes the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in people. Creating a culture of empowerment doesn’t happen overnight—but leaders of the best run companies know that empowerment creates satisfied people, positive relationships, and never before seen results. People are excited about the organizational vision, motivated to serve customers at a higher level, and focused on working toward the greater good.
It’s true—empowered employees have more expected of them. But along with those high expectations comes growth, career development, the satisfaction of belonging to a self-directed team and being involved in decisions, and a sense of ownership.
In Empowerment Takes More than a Minute, the book I coauthored with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, we offer three keys leaders must use to guide the transition to a culture of empowerment.
The First Key: Share Information with Everyone
Team members who get the information they need from their leader can make good business decisions. But when leaders keep important information to themselves, people often come up with their own version of the truth—which may be worse than reality. And when people don’t have accurate information, they can’t act responsibly.
Servant leaders trust their people and realize that openly sharing information about themselves and the organization—good or bad—is the right thing to do. It builds trust between managers and their people. And when people have accurate information, they can make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization.
The Second Key: Create Autonomy through Boundaries
Counter to what some people believe, there is structure in an empowered organization. It is there to inform team members of the boundaries that exist within their autonomy. These boundaries take the form of vision statements, goals, decision-making rules, performance management partnerships, etc. Within those ranges, team members can determine what to do and how to do it. As the empowered person grows, the range of structures also grows to allow them a greater degree of control and responsibility.
The Third Key: Replace the Hierarchy with Self-Directed Individuals and Teams
Empowered, self-directed individuals and teams—highly skilled, interactive groups with strong self-managing skills—are more effective in complex situations. They don’t just recommend ideas—they make and implement decisions and are held accountable for results. Today, success depends on empowered, self-directed individuals and teams.
Empowerment means that people have the freedom to act. It also means that they are accountable for results. The journey to empowerment requires everyone to challenge their most basic assumptions about how business should operate. People at all levels of the organization must master new skills and learn to trust self-directed individuals and teams as decision-making entities. An empowered culture is not easily built—but the rewards for the organization, its leaders, and its workers are enduring and plentiful.