How to Empower Not Delegate as a Leader

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Have you ever wondered what separates leaders from managers? The list is long, and it includes things like inspiration instead of motivation and visionary instead of temporary. However, one significant difference is under your control and, more important than ever today, empowering rather than delegating.  

A common piece of advice from executives trying to help less experienced managers is, “you have to delegate more.” While the suggestion of taking things off of your plate and putting them on someone else’s makes sense on the surface, the intention behind the ask makes the difference.  

If you take nothing else from this column, I want you to take this:

When leaders delegate, it’s about them. When leaders empower, it’s about others. 

Empower vs. Delegate

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is confusing delegation and empowerment. So let’s get on the same page about the difference between them.  

Harvard Business Review defines delegation this way. Delegation refers to the transfer of responsibility for specific tasks from one person to another. From a management perspective, delegation occurs when a manager assigns specific tasks to their employees.

According to Oxford Dictionary, Empowerment is defined as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights” It enables others to be responsible for and take ownership over something. 

In Building the Best, I defined leadership as inspiring, empowering, and serving in order to elevate others. Empowering others to make decisions is an essential part of successful leadership today.  

A Mindset Shift is Required

A great example of the difference between delegating and empowering arose during one of my recent coaching calls with a rising star named Kara. Kara’s clinic was performing well, but she was getting burned out because she did everything. When asked what would help her, she replied, “I could delegate our supply buying process to one of my team members.”

While it was a great idea, she was thinking about delegation instead of empowerment. So I challenged her to change her thinking. “Instead of simply asking a team member to start ordering supplies, what if you empowered them to improve the supply buying process?”

Immediately Kara’s shifted her mindset from delegation to empowerment. This was her response as she roleplayed the conversation with her team member, “I have been thinking about how we can improve our supply buying process. Since you are so detail-oriented and a great negotiator, would you be open to taking ownership of our supply buying process for the next three months to see how it goes?”

Empowering team members transfers belief and ownership.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference in how the empowerment approach transfers belief and ownership versus delegating a potentially dull task.

Why Empowerment is Essential Today

Since the invention of the assembly line, delegating tasks to employees has made sense. However, thanks to remote work due to Covid-19, employees want something different and demand flexibility.  

On a recent episode of the Work-Life Podcast with Adam Grant, when describing the need for companies to rethink flexibility at work, he said, “managers are constantly creating constraints and limiting opportunities. What’s required is more flexibility while still meeting organizational objectives.” 

Today’s workplace requires more flexibility while still meeting organizational objectives.

As obvious as this may sound, its execution is ridiculously challenging. However, the payoff is a more engaged, innovative, and committed team. 

How Leaders Can Empower Others

Now that it’s clear the best leaders empower instead of delegate, how can you do it more effectively? Here are a few ideas to explore:

  1. Build a Bond of Mutual Trust 

Empowerment requires high levels of trust. Specifically, trust that’s bound together from every corner of the organization. Trust is simply consistency over time. This means trust is earned through a two-way street paved by consistent action. 

Trust is earned through a two-way street paved by consistent action. 

A street paved with leaders giving others a chance to earn flexibility so they can be empowered to do their best work, then team members willing to be patient and prove they are trustworthy.  

2. Focus on Mutual Commitments 

There is a big difference between being interested and being committed. The easiest way to have confidence that empowering others is the next move is to have a group of people committed to the mission, each other, and the effort required to succeed. 

One way to ensure you have this level of mutual commitment is for each team member to write or say, “My commitment is…” As simple as this may sound, our words are our bond. People are more likely to follow through if they verbally commit to themselves and someone else about their plan and intentions. 

People are more likely to follow through if they verbally commit to themselves and someone else about their plan and intentions. 

3. Share Common Values and Purpose

Money is easily the most popular incentivizing tool organizations use to retain and recruit employees. While pay is significant, it’s not the most important. People give their best effort when on a team that shares values and purpose. 

People give their best effort on a team that shares values and purpose. 

A consistent and systematic approach to aligning core values and communicating the deeper purpose behind the work is imperative. There is nothing worse than defining and talking about core values, yet leaders are not demonstrating them. Leaders are the primary driver of core values, so they must embody them correctly. 

Closing

If I told you it’s easy to empower others, I would be lying. Most people, myself included, have a difficult time giving up control. However, if you want to act and behave like the best leaders, empowering others is precisely what you need to do.  

If behaving like the best leaders isn’t enough, consider the business metrics you will positively impact, such as reduced turnover, increased revenue, and improved productivity. 

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why the Best Leaders Use Purpose to Improve Engagement

Recruitment concept searching for employee

There is this common belief that disengaged employees are bad employees. The reasons are numerous, but a few common behaviors include; laziness, boredom, uninspired, and limited productivity.

While it’s undoubtedly true these aren’t the habits that produce excellent results; it doesn’t mean a disengaged employee is a bad employee forever.

Take Mark, the CEO of a medium-sized manufacturing company, as an example. Thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit and relentless work ethic, he and a small team grew his business from nothing to $15M in revenue over ten years. But as the company saw revenue plateau for three consecutive years, Mark began to lose interest.  

He started working fewer hours, stopped holding daily huddles with his management team, and found himself just going through the motions. You could say he was lazy, bored, and uninspired, thus he became disengaged from an outside perspective.  

Thanks to his team and external coaching help, Mark began to recognize what his disengagement was costing his own company and how it was negatively affecting his people. Through a lot of hard work and soul searching, he rediscovered his passion and purpose and committed to new habits to replace the stale ones. Mark has transformed his leadership approach in just six short months and has breathed new life into the business and his team.  

He also provides an example that disengaged employees aren’t bad employees, and no one is immune to becoming disengaged, even the CEO.

Disengaged employees aren’t bad employees permanently, and no one is immune to becoming disengaged. 

How Disengaged Are We?

Now before we get into the state of engagement in the workplace, we must level set on a common definition of employee engagement. While there are tons of great definitions of employee engagement, I have come to define it this way, “Employees who are emotionally committed to the success of the team or organization, demonstrated through their actions.”

When employees are engaged in this way, they are more productive, happier, and fulfilled in their professional careers. This makes it hard to imagine why anyone would sign up to be disengaged, but unfortunately, it’s more popular than the latter. 

To give you an idea of how unengaged the workforce is today, Gallup research found only 39% of employees are engaged, and 14% are actively disengaged

Managers are Most Important

While the current engagement statics are no doubt a bit gloomy, I am an optimistic thinker. Instead of seeing it as a problem, I see it as an opportunity, much like many of the great leaders I have studied. Great leaders look for opportunities in problems.  

When you look at employee engagement through the lens of an opportunity instead of a problem, clarity emerges. The opportunity present is for managers to take personal responsibility instead of pawning it off on HR or relying on the bi-annual company-wide engagement survey. While Human Resources professionals are key and engagement surveys are essential, research indicates that managers affect 70% of team engagement variance. 

So if you have a title that comes with the responsibility of leading others at work, know the actions you exhibit today will reflect the engagement you get tomorrow.

The actions leaders exhibit today will reflect the engagement they get tomorrow.

How to Drive Higher Levels of Engagement

Most bad leaders assume that disengagement will take care of itself if you throw money at people (If only it were this easy!). In Adam Grant’s book, Think Again, he wrote, “Research across industry, shows once people are earning enough to meet their basic needs, paying them more doesn’t stop them from leaving a bad job and bad bosses. In most companies, if the pay were the carrot, that would have already solved the engagement problem.”

Grant is correct; while pay is essential, it won’t solve the problem. One key action leaders can leverage to drive higher engagement levels is to connect the team’s activity to a deeper purpose.  

Connect your team to a deeper purpose for higher engagement levels

Shared Purpose

Employees don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do their work. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their people of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the most prominent mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into this flawed thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

On a recent episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, Rodney Showmar, the CEO of Arkansas Federal Credit Union, said, “Engaged professionals don’t get up every day to do a function; they get up every day to fulfill a purpose.” Showmar and his team do a phenomenal job connecting every single one of their 350+ employees to “making a difference in people’s lives.”

A deeper purpose like Showmar articulates has been instrumental in achieving higher levels of success for his organization. Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it’s doing. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you’re unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these three complicated yet straightforward questions:

  1. What do you do? 
  2. Why do you do it? (Hint: it’s got to be more than making money)
  3. What positive impact does our work have on others?

It’s easy to skim past these questions, but I’m challenging you to pause. Reread them and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer it with clarity. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

Closing

Disengaged employees aren’t bad employees. Before judging them, use your empathy skills and recognize disengagement can happen to any of us. Then look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What can I do to get them emotionally committed to the success of the team?” There is a good chance the answer to that question has nothing to do with money but instead reconnecting them to the purpose behind their work.

Coaching for Excellence: The development of your coaching skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me for the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop. Sign up and get “8 Questions to Leverage to Be a Better Coach” for free today! https://bit.ly/3goZLv2

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Lead Your Remote Team

Remote work concept. Designer demonstrates color swatch

The snowball effect has been in full force. First, Facebook made a work from home announcement, then Google, Twitter, and Salesforce followed up with policies of their own. While these companies’ WFH policies are slightly different, managers will be leading remote teams for the foreseeable future.  

On the surface, this is great for professionals because it provides built-in flexibility to control their commute and work schedule. However, when you dig deeper, it exposes some real challenges for people in positions of leadership. Sustaining productivity, performance, teamwork, and culture are all more complicated in a remote work setting.  

After studying remote work and helping managers prepare for their changing responsibilities, one thing is abundantly clear:

Most people manage a remote team, but few lead one.

Managing focuses on numbers, KPI’s, schedules, and performance management. These are obviously important when it comes to remote work, and often can be automated or be executed successfully, even by bad bosses. Leadership, on the other hand, is about inspiring, empowering, and serving others. The best leaders elevate others to levels they didn’t think possible.  

Challenges for leaders of remote teams

Leading this way is hard, but it’s even harder with a remote team due to the inability to gather the team together, in person. In a recent episode of the WorkLife Podcast with Adam Grant, he covered two primary challenges of remote teams that leaders need to be aware of:

Shared identity. Teams need to feel they are all in this together. When working remotely, it is easier than ever to feel like you’re on an island and lose sight of achieving things as a group instead of individually. Grant said it so well: “We bond best when our individual actions contribute to a common purpose.”

Shared understanding. Individuals need to feel alignment with what a team is doing and what it values. Since each remote team member will have a different personal situation and remote work set up, having a shared understanding is essential.

While both seem simple on the surface, they are difficult for leaders of remote teams to achieve. If you are faced with leading a remote team, here are a few best practices to help ensure you are leading and not just managing:

Connect them to a shared cause and objective

The verb form of the word “team” means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Setting a clear cause and an objective for a team is instrumental in achieving higher levels of success.  

Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it’s doing and what you’re working towards achieving. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you’re unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these two complicated yet straightforward questions:

  • What do you do, and why do you do it? (Hint: it’s got to be more than making money)
  • What goal would your team be excited about achieving?

It’s easy to skim past those two questions, but I’m challenging you to pause. Reread those two questions and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer them. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

Clarify remote work standards

A standard is defining what good looks like. From all of our research in studying what the best leaders do in Building the Best, it’s clear:

Managers define what good looks like; leaders define what great looks like. 

It will be tempting to lower the standards for your team since you are working remotely. I urge you to reject this temptation and instead maintain or even raise the standard. Clarity your team standards around work schedules, team and one-on-one meetings, and communication methods.  

Every leader of a remote team should have a standing weekly team meeting; Don’t just stop there; leverage a weekly one-on-one scheduled meeting each week with every team member. Use a tool like Peoplebox to help you be an effective leader during these interactions. 

Coach for development 

Since so much of remote work is about outcomes, leaders need to make a dedicated effort to coach and develop their people. The word coach comes from “carriage,” which means to take someone from where they are today to where they want to go. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Be present. If you are going to coach your people for development, being present in your interactions is essential. Reject the temptation to multitask and instead lock in and focus on how you can help them develop.  

While being an effective coach isn’t easy, it will not only pay off in the short term but will leave a lasting impact. If you ever find yourself veering away from coaching your people ask yourself this simple question. “What is the value I can give the person in front of me right now that’s meaningful to them?”

I have included a list of remote coaching questions to get you started:

  • I’ve struggled to unplug from work since we are now remote, how are you managing it?
  • Do you have a proper work setup at home?  
  • Which aspect of remote work do you enjoy the most?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you be more productive when you’re working from home? 
  • What’s the biggest challenge you face while working remotely? 
  • How often are you speaking with other team members? 

Closing

You are capable of leading your remote team through this unprecedented time. Embrace the discomfort of your virtual environment and elevate your people to higher levels of performance.

Download the Leading Remote Teams Toolkit for Free Here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.