I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about leadership and using a mountain guide’s skills to create success in business. I’ve learned about the six areas of focus from Christopher I. Maxwell and his book, Lead Like a Guide: How World-Class Mountain Guides Inspire Us to Be Better Leaders; this week, I’m taking a look at empowerment.
I think many organizations today believe in empowerment, but maybe they don’t understand the full implication. It’s a lot about how you view yourself as a leader and having a broader context about your role in empowering others. That includes building a culture others can feel safe in that helps them excel in their role.
To empower is to encourage and coach people so they develop and succeed in things they didn’t believe they could, and experience something along the way.
It includes removing obstacles so everyone on the team can reach new heights, and it starts with taking the first big step of making a decision and then serving others to execute on the goal.
Know The Culture
I have seen from international companies that the leadership culture is often different from the branch of the organization their workers are from. Unfortunately, instead of being aware of the differences in cultures across countries, leadership can come from the top down and create a management style that disempowers workers in countries with different leadership and business operating methods.
When this happens, especially if the management style is a top-down approach, employees can feel that they are not being empowered. Instead, employees feel like they are being directed, ordered, and controlled, even if they have insights and solutions to the goals they are being asked to achieve. In this case, empowerment, as a helpful leadership tool, is hard to come by. This scenario is also common if leadership is caught up in other matters or missing due to fragmented focus.
In Sweden, where I have worked with both national and international companies for over twenty years, empowerment, as a concept, is widespread. In fact, I sometimes think it’s become a trend but has been adopted countrywide without really understanding what it means or how to use it.
Empowerment requires more than just delegating authority.
More Than Consensus
It’s not enough to involve others in the decision-making processes if you are not taking action on the organization’s decisions. There is a risk that the focus shifts toward giving everyone a chance to have their say, even if that means no formal decision is taken and no one steps up to lead the way. As an adaptable leader, you know when you need to step in to lead.
Whether you’re an international organization or a national one, you have to find the balance in the right leadership style. If you decide to use empowerment as part of your leadership skill set, you can’t do it in bits and pieces. You have to include a deeper understanding and a focus on the bigger picture to really empower people.
When I think about the concept of “empowerment” and then match it to the ways I try to lead others, I see that, for me, it means taking the first step and then removing obstacles on the road. Next, it means always giving a helping hand, not being afraid of rolling up my sleeves, and doing the hard work together with everyone else. Finally, it’s about being a shoulder to stand on, so people can thrive, excel, learn, and grow along the way.
On the flip side of my methods of leading with empowerment, I have also had managers take the time to empower me and my work for the organization. The difference in having someone support me makes towards improving my ability to execute and perform is fantastic.
Instead of feeling alone and unsupported, having a leader who is always available to listen makes all the difference; one who also sees that you might have some advice to give them, too. That makes it feel like you’re striving towards the same goal and building a team you can trust in.
This type of empowerment has gone a long way toward seeing me through challenging times and has kept me committed even in the middle of heavy organizational storms. I think it’s key to building an organization built for resilience with an infinite mindset.
A Crucial Ingredient
Authentic leadership, by using the skill of empowerment, can be the ultimate tool for being successful. It means guiding others toward a deep level of achievement. It is not just a targeted outcome on a per-project basis, but a deeper involvement where everyone feels like their contribution makes the overall result possible.
That means having all involved learning something and growing, performing at the highest level possible, on the journey towards organizational success and sustainability.
This empowerment doesn’t happen unless you invest in the power of leadership, of guiding as a way to lead.
Like other vital leadership characteristics, empowering people requires you to create a culture where people feel safe. Knowing that you will always be there to guide them, listen to them, share with them, and involve them in every step of the process they are asked to be a part of makes all the difference. If you’re committed to becoming a natural leader, you must add empowerment to your skillset.
In my next post, I will write about trust and how that affects building a lasting company.
[This post was originally posted on Medium, May 10, 2017]