I was insanely busy. But life was about to get busier. Too busy for me, an immature leader who didn’t know what leadership was. I led a fourteen-person office team, and we were headed toward peak season—a time where we all had to pull long hours, take on extra responsibilities, and somehow run a huge fundraising event. I was about to cave.
So I took a risk. Instead of being the Guy Who Thinks He Can Do Everything (a quick road to failure, burnout, and mid-life crisis) I decided to do something else…something risky. I decided to distribute all the responsibilities among the team. We held a late-night meeting, that went something like this. “Joe, you’ll be in charge of all the graphics and advertising. You have a budget of $200. Mike, I want you to oversee the marketing for the fundraiser. James, you’re going to be in charge of finances. I want everyone to report expenditures to James.” I kept on giving out assignments, until I had given away the entire operation to my team.
All I had to do (supposedly) was receive reports, give guidance, and put out the occasional fire.
My leadership style up until this point had been characterized by micromanagement, disorganization, fatigue, stress, and a sense of failure. My staff felt it, too. I was a contagious carrier of a blight that had crippled my team, and compromised our effectiveness.
That all changed. During that meeting, something was happening. Without realizing it, I was creating a culture of empowerment. Excitement grew as the team members began brainstorming. Talent I didn’t know was there began to flow. Relationships were forged between standoffish team members. Leadership qualities flourished in others.
As it turned out, that busy season turned out to be our best. Sure, we put in some long hours. Yeah, there were a couple fires I had to put out. But a spirit of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement surged through every team member. Optimism pervaded every fiber of the organization. We pulled in record-breaking amounts of money in our fundraiser. The team was psyched. I was thrilled.
I realize now that what was happening was empowerment.
How Do You Empower Others?
So, what does it take to have this kind of a dream team? What do you have to do in order to unleash the untapped power of an unbelievable force? How do you become an empowering leader?
First of all, you must get the focus off yourself. You are not the center of the universe. You are only the one who pushes the buttons that make the machine work. Empowerment starts with realizing that you can’t do everything and you shouldn’t do everything. Humility is essential. Jesus is the ultimate model of humility. Although He was the greatest Leader who ever lived, he taught his disciples through the act of washing their feet. Only with humble servanthood can you begin to empower others.
- You don’t control them. Micromanagement kills. It kills your employees. It kills you as a leader. It kills your entire organization. Don’t do it. Empowering others means that you let them do what they do best.
- You give them responsibility. A leader who empowers is a leader who isn’t afraid to assign responsibilities. People work best when they know exactly what their responsibility is. When workers sense that they lack responsibility, they feel as if their position is not important. Their work begins to suffer. Don’t let this happen. Give them responsibility and the autonomy to fulfill that responsibility to the best of their ability.
- You explain things. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard identifies three keys to empowerment. The most important of these is this “share information with everyone.” In other words, even your janitor should be privy to the 2012 budget—the whole thing. The secretary should understand that your non-profit is facing a potential lawsuit. If knowledge is power, then to gain knowledge is to be empowered. As a leader, your role is to explain things, to provide information, and to have no secrets. You may consider it a risk, but your employees will respond.
- You allow them to be creative. Maybe (just maybe) your ideas aren’t always the best ones. Maybe your employee has a better idea. That’s okay. In fact, that’s good. As the leader, you can encourage that employee by giving her idea a go. You may be surprised. Creativity is a powerful force, but it only works in others when you allow it.
- You guide them. Empowerment is not a hands-off approach to leadership. You are hands-on, but in a different way. You are no longer saying, “No, no, I want you to answer the phone this way, and have this style of teaching Sunday School.” Instead, you’re saying, “Marie, I think you would be perfect for overseeing our nursery reorganization. Here’s the information. Let me know if I can help you in any way.” Give guidance, then get out of the way.
- You encourage them. Encouragement is essentially empowerment. Can you remember the last time you were encouraged—I mean really, really encouraged? It does something to you. It changes the way you sit in your chair, face the next task, and look at your to-do list. It’s empowering. As the leader, you can deliver this type of empowerment simply by giving encouragement. Honest, specific, and regular encouragement is an extremely powerful thing to do.
As you consider your leadership, and this whole concept of empowerment, take a look at Jesus again. What did he do? He mentored and trained twelve men for three years. He died. He rose from the dead. He spent a few weeks with them. And then he was gone.
Now these twelve disciples had to get started on this huge responsibility that he had entrusted them with (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). They had the Holy Spirit, but they couldn’t see Him, talk with Him, or take walks with Him like they used to do with Jesus.
It was time for them to rely on the Holy Spirit, and engage in the work that Jesus called them to do. They had responsibility. They had the information they needed. They had the liberty to be creative and express their gifts and personalities. They had the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and plenty of encouraging promises. They were, quite literally, empowered.
And look where we are now.
Empowerment is risky. But that’s what leaders do. We take risks. We work hard, we play smart, but now and then we have to take risks. Empowerment is going to feel risky, but it could very well be the best thing that ever happened to your leadership.
Now, who can you go empower today?
Guest Post Written by Daniel Threlfall