Emmitt Smith, one of the greatest running backs of all time, told a stirring story during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech.
He spoke of watching the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving when he was six years old. As he watched the game Emmitt spoke in a hushed tone, "One day I will play in the NFL, and I will play for the Dallas Cowboys." Having thought no one in the crowded room heard him he was shocked when a familiar voice rose above the noise saying, "Yes you will, Emmitt. Yes you will." That voice belonged to Smith's father. He reflected that at various times throughout his life and career those words empowered him to keep moving forward.
Leaders have the capacity to empower others to achieve more than they thought possible. Here are six ways you can empower and enable your team to thrive.
Clearly define boundaries.
Where are the lines of authority on a role? What is the scope of a decision someone can make? What do you have to sign off on? What do you need to know before something is done? Be sure to answer the big questions up front when trusting people to lead. If not, there is a risk you will undermine someone's authority before they even begin.
A simple way to do this is by creating a "High Bar, Low Bar" system. Define what the lowest standard is that you never want to be brought into. The lets your team know that it is a bother if elements below this bar are brought to you. It guards you from being drug into minutia you do not have time for. A high bar determines the top decisions that cannot be made without your input. Perhaps you do not want personnel changes, strategic adjustments or expenses over a certain amount made without your involvement. Providing the top and bottom, gives space in how execution and implementation occurs...and you do not box people in. Clarity gives confidence.
Empowerment is entrusting others with authority. Delegating tasks comes up short. Giving responsibility is not enough. Responsibility delivers a result, authority shares a burden. Once you know someone’s character is trustworthy, allow them to lead by trusting them with authority.
The litmus test of authority comes down to the answer to one question: Do they have the power to make decisions? Empowerment creates decision makers. If there are layers of approval someone has to go through to arrive at every decision, they do not really have authority. Authority leads to quicker and better decisions. Empowerment begins with giving away authority.
People fear messing up. It is human nature. Anyone who is given authority feels the weight of it and worries one mishap will destroy everything. Plus they simply do not want to disappoint you! Part of your role is assuring and coaching them through the process. Confident people make better decisions. Slow down and assure your team.
Another way to instill confidence in people is by creating finishable tasks. This is especially helpful with younger leaders. Before you empower them in big areas, give them authority over some smaller things to build them up. Let them lead a team or execute an event that is in their wheelhouse.
One reason to empower other leaders is so you will not become the bottleneck of progress. Strategically remove yourself. This is a discipline and will take some work. It is sobering to hear that you do not need to be in every room, meeting and decision. What is even more powerful is knowing better decisions may be made without you around.
Another reason you should remove yourself? When you are in the room, you sway the room. It is the downside of powerful leaders. Even when you do not mean to you intimidate people, create second guessing in others, and can have people answer based on what they think you will approve of rather than what they really think. Is this healthy? No. Is it reality? Quite often. Create space between you and the process by stepping out of situations that require others to exercise authority. Move from managing the process to monitoring the process.
Keep accountability high.
Authority without accountability is a path to disaster. When issues arise you are the living breathing guardrails that keep authority channeled in the right direction. Accountability tests the mettle of potential leaders. You can see who crumbles under pressure or rises to occasions.
A small way to keep accountability high is in how you talk to people. You have to let people know that something is not up to standard without robbing them of the authority you are giving them and without saving them by providing the answer. When you bump into moments where someone needs gentle correction some good words to use are, "Hmm, you can do a lot better than that. Let me know when you have fixed it." Then walk away. It is a little awkward, but they will get the point and they will bear the burden to improve.
Talk it out.
Empowerment needs a system. Create space in the calendar to have frequent one-on-one dialogue with those you give authority. Synergy beats isolation every time. One reason a leader can only delegate authority to a select few at a time is due to this principle. It takes time!
When having these conversations, focus on two areas: Actions and Attitudes. Make sure you speak into the decisions they make, get inside their head to discover reasoning, give feedback on their performance and correct what you do not like. Tell them what was wrong and ask them why they did it. Then be quiet. Listen. Hear their responses. At the same time deal with their personality, people skills, body language and overall attitude as well. Do not be afraid to let them make mistakes, but do not ignore them. Their mistake today will make them better tomorrow.
You can achieve a lot on your skill set and talent alone. You can build a legacy if you learn to empower other leaders. Calling out and nurturing the potential of others not only solidifies your leadership, it also promises your organization will be even stronger when you are gone. Look around you for someone to trust with authority today.