Empowerment: A Path to Accomplishment

Empowerment: A Path to Accomplishment

7 min read

Brian Canning

The greatest victory any leader can enjoy is mission or task accomplishment. That is what we are here for and the standard by which we will be measured but before we achieve that lofty goal, before we get to celebrate that success, we have to do something toward getting our people to do the things we want them to do. That, of course, is what leadership is all about but too often that is where the seeds of failure are sewn and where we miss the opportunity to assure a complete and overwhelming success.

For good or for ill our people are a reflection of our leadership and if marginal successes and marginal victories are what we are celebrating and what we are accepting, I can promise you the paradigm will hold true and that staggering collapse across the finish line that you use to mark the successful completion of a task or project, will show itself in how your people mark their own milestones and wins. Not begrudging any success but aiming just a little higher, pushing just a little further, both assures the win and sets a standard for something just a little better. Excellence is nothing more or less than our not accepting the norm or commonplace and holding out for something better. As leaders we get to define success, though too often we are not taking that time or insisting on anything beyond the ordinary. If you are asking for ordinary I am guessing that is just what you will get. I am suggesting that as long as we’re asking, we might as well ask for something better.

One of the scariest and most challenging things any leader will ever face is putting the fate of a task or project in the hands of another human being. As leaders we are tasked with delivering results every day,  in every task, project or mission we take on and in the final analysis we are either effective leaders and deliver the goods, or we are something else. Our success or failure will always be tied to how effectively we lead, empower and motivate our staff. If we are finding ourselves in that “something else” category, maybe it is time to take a look at how we lead.

The very best staff member you could ever ask for is one who will do all the things you would ask, with the initiative to go one better and do the extra things that would assure a quality result delivered ahead of our expectations. There is no doubt that this is a rare bird in most work places but that is more a reflection on our failures as leaders than it is testament to the rarity of the species. Our people are what we make them. Behaviors like initiative only occur in work places that support and empower their staff members. Initiative only exists where it is encouraged and when there is enough confidence to act and to step beyond what is expected. It is not the responsibility of a staff member to show initiative, it is our responsibility as leaders to encourage and reward this type of behavior when it occurs. Extraordinary is always the result of leadership that empowers people toward something better, with the confidence to act.

In our setting expectations for something better, it is very important that we paint that picture for our people. In training, in planning and in communicating, we do everything possible to support their efforts toward this new frontier, correcting our course as necessary and celebrating our victories along the way. George Patton once said “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. Initiative and the courage to act we had talked about only comes in an environment that encourages innovation and imagination in finding solutions. There is a risk in delegating responsibilities to other staff members. To whatever degree we are able to train them, to whatever degree we are able to communicate our expectations, we mitigate that risk and create an environment that goes beyond what is expected, assuring success, time and time again. A side benefit to our empowering our staff members is in their confidence. A confident worker is one who displays that initiative we had talked about and one who will make suggestions and share ideas and grow and learn and become more productive. There is no doubt that there are risks through all of this but that journey from good to great is never without challenge or setbacks but it is always worth the effort. Effective leadership is the key.

In staff surveys I have seen over the years and in productivity studies I have participated in, I am amazed and astounded at how often I run into whole populations of staff members who don’t know what is expected of them. Nearly as often I hear from business owners and senior managers that they are frustrated with the lack of initiative and willingness to act they observe from their staff members. As a leader it is easy to blame your staff when things are going wrong but if you are failing to set expectations for excellence and if you are failing to train and encourage their efforts, any shortfalls or failures rest squarely on your shoulders. If you, as the leader, are not defining success, how can you reasonably expect your people to deliver the results that you were looking for? When I ask this question I am nearly always presented with a “common sense” argument that seems to say that our people should know what is expected and that ‘we shouldn’t have to babysit them’. Really?

I am one of those old dogs that happen to believe in people. I believe that if we do a good job in defining our expectations for our staff members and if we train them in such a way as to assure their ability to perform the things we are asking of them and encourage them and celebrate their successes, most people will go beyond what you had wanted and deliver that high end success we should all be looking for. There are exceptions; those rare and misguided individuals that, despite the explanations and training and encouragement, just don’t ever seem to get it. Another important aspect of leadership is in our recognizing those among us who are not willing or not capable of delivering on the tasks and responsibilities we have laid in front of them. As painful as it might be, they have to go. I would tell you to be patient and give them every reasonable chance to succeed but if they are not contributing to your success, for whatever the reason, then they are hindering it and you need to move on. Remember, the leader’s greatest responsibility is task or mission accomplishment. Nothing or no one can stand in the way of that. People always need to be given the opportunity to do the right thing and if you have helped them define that, they might just surprise you.

In ‘Leading Change’ John Kotter said “Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there; they cause change. They motivate and inspire others to go in the right direction and they, along with everyone else, sacrifice to get there.”

Who have you motivated or inspired today?

About the author:

Brian Canning is a regular contributor to weLEAD and a business analyst working in the federal sector. For the past thirty years he has worked in the automotive repair industry, most recently as a leadership and management coach with the Automotive Training Institute in Savage, Maryland. After serving as a tank commander with the 1st Armored Division in Europe, he started his career as a Goodyear service manager in suburban Washington D.C., moving on to oversee several stores and later a sales region. He also has been a retail sales manager for a large auto parts distributor, run a large fleet operation and headed a large multi-state sales territory for an independent manufacturer of auto parts. His passions are history, leadership and writing.

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  • Quote of the Day

    “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

    — Warren Bennis