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Empowered Leadership

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Integrity is the fundamental premise of military service in a free society. Without integrity, the moral pillars of our military strength — Public Trust and Self-Respect — are lost. General Charles A. Gabriel

It seems that some new fad runs through the business world every decade or so in supervision. Things are even more complicated in diversity management, downsizing, outsourcing, generational work conflicts, and the information age.

No longer does a one size fits all leadership model work. We cannot treat everyone equally and expect everything to work out somehow. Managers and leaders must have a framework to manage their workers to honor everyone’s unique and specific position on the job.

Empowered leadership is the way to do just that. Empowered leadership shares the power between management and the workers, thus empowering both groups. 

Conventional wisdom tells us that when those in power relinquish some of that power by sharing it or giving it to their employees, they will lose something when they gain. 

Think about it. When people rule with an iron hand, they generally instill fear in those who work for them. Do you do your best work when you are afraid? I do not know about you, but I will try to comply because I want to avoid negative consequences, but it certainly will not be my best work. The absolute best a manager can hope for with coercion is compliance. If compliance is enough, then force might work.

However, I will gripe and complain and quietly wait for opportunities to get even. I will not have a kind thing to say about my employer and, at every chance, will seek corroboration for how I feel from my co-workers, thus spreading us versus them mentality. 

Leaders and managers will gain loyalty when they look to empower their workers. Workers want to give their supervisors their best when they are listened to and respected. Without fear, their minds can be creative and innovative. 

When managers are willing to accommodate special requests that do not interfere with product or service delivery, their employees will be sure to give back their best. Giving away power only increases a manager’s ability.

I am not talking about being a total pushover and only advocating for what employees want. As a manager, you have a two-fold job to be your employees’ desires, opinions, and suggestions to management while simultaneously communicating management issues, concerns, and expectations to your employees. This is not an easy line to walk.

You will never get the best from your employees if they do not respect you. You cannot be a doormat for your employees to walk over. If they believe you have no bottom line or are non-negotiable, they will never be satisfied and always ask for more. You will feel used and abused; the truth is, you asked for it.

As a manager, you must hold the bar high. Expect beautiful things from every one of your workers. If you only expect mediocrity, mediocrity is exactly what you will get. Set the standards and lead by example. If your workers see you giving it their all, it will be difficult for them to perform below average.

There is a difference between holding people accountable, leading by example, and running a team like a tyrant. It would help if you produced a safe place, a common ground; many people call this a culture. A culture will set the standards, let people know they have a safe place to talk and be themselves, a scientific lab for discovery and failure, and a chance for remarkable success from those failures in the learning experiences.

Michael Jordan was quoted about missing baskets and his grand failures in basketball history, but also racking up the most points. Before him, no one could match his intimidation, prowess, and dedication to his profession. He held everybody’s standards high and was extremely hard to deal with. Yes, he will go down as one of the greatest basketball players in history if he has not already, and he is a living legend and, even decades after, continues to do fantastic work. However, collaborating with him was like being in a meat grinder. 

The founder of virgin said trait and raised people to have the skills to go anywhere and work but treat them so that they do not want to leave. This is what I am talking about. You will learn more from your failures than your successes. You grow more from your stumbles than your triumphs. The most significant companies in history have a culture of great imagination and daring to fill big to gain the benefits down the road. When employees can dream freely, beautiful things happen.

It would help if you had production goals you are trying to meet for either products or services. Always enlist the help of your employees to set the goals, with the underlying premise being continual improvement.

And as a manager, you have the responsibility to create a satisfying workplace for yourself and your workers. You cannot emphasize one to the exclusion of the other without there being undesirable consequences.

When you focus on production only and forget the human capital, you will become resistant, angry workers. On the other hand, when you only focus on the people end and allow production goals to be compromised, you will have workers who do everything they can to take advantage and get out of the work. After all, if you, the manager, do not value production, why should they?

When you walk that excellent line between relationships and production goals, somewhere in the middle, you practice empowered leadership. That is where you will get the most from your employees.

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