Empowerment – Management theory or does it work?

Last updated Dec 10, 2020 | Developing staff

Empowerment – Management theory or does it work?

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Empowerment often sounds like a magical word that’s supposed to deliver all sorts of creativity and productivity benefits; but rarely does. What’s more empowering introverts seems harder for many extroverted leaders. This article focuses on 4 tips for empowering your team, specially empowering introverts in your team.

What is empowerment

In simple terms it’s giving authority or power to someone to do something. Normally the aim is that in doing so the person will feel more engaged and satisfied, that the firm will get more work done overall and become more resilient as more than one person can do something.

In addition, you might find new more effective and creative ways of working, so the whole firm learns.

A study from Zenger Folkman found that only 4% of employees are willing to give extra effort when empowerment is low, but 67% as willing when empowerment is high. “Giving extra” has a significant impact on productivity.

Where does empowerment go wrong?

There’s a difference between being empowered and feeling empowered. I might be very happy for you to take a risk, but if you don’t feel it – you won’t take that risk.

  • Status – the manager wants it to fail! Some people worry that power and status are diminished if others are doing “your things”.
  • Micromanagement – The manager checks every small part of the task, all the time.
  • Low trust – If the team don’t trust your motives, or your response when things go badly (critical) or well (take all the praise), empowerment will be hard.
  • Undervalued – If you don’t feel valued, you’re not likely to “go the extra mile”.

Micromanaging introverts

What’s different about empowering introverts

People all need approaching in a way that’s meaningful for them, if you’re to get the best performance and leave them feeling empowered. In that respect, introverts are no different to extroverts.

But understanding your team by “labels” will be a good start. Introverts will react to some things differently extroverts, that knowledge could change your approach.

10 tips for empowering your team

  1. Boundaries: Define the boundaries within which an employee can make his or her own decisions. This gives them freedom to act and is especially true of introverts. Boundaries don’t restrict team members; they empower them.
  2. Feeling valued: If a team member doesn’t feel valued, they’re not going to feel empowered. Consider how you make your team feel valued and whether you act differently with extroverts v introverts.
  3. Supportive, or critical? I worked with two different ski instructors this year, one was great at telling me what was wrong, the other pointed out the same things – but presented them in smaller doses, praised progress on them and got me to think through how I might change what I was doing. Which do you think felt more supportive and got better results? Do your team think you’ve “got their back” and are happy to defend their actions in public (was a good attempt even though it didn’t work)?
  4. Acknowledge success and failure privately. We all like to be called out by the boss for doing something good – or do we? Many introverts aren’t bothered with the public call out and may be don’t even like it; ask them first. That doesn’t stop you talking to your peers about their success, that’s still a private discussion.
  5. Open, inviting and listening. If your team are coming forward with ideas, many of them will not be relevant right now (or at all). Sure, if it’s a really bad idea, tell them and why. If it’s good but not a priority now, say so and when you’ll talk about it again. If there’s some good points in it, say so, question them and see how it can be developed.
  6. Authority to act. There is some correlation between introversion and comfort at working in an unstructured undefined area. Introverts tend to prefer more structure and support around them. They’ll feel more empowered and go further if they know how you’re working with them, what authority they have.

You may also like to read:

Or listen to: 

An interview with Helene Jewell of the International Association of Facilitators on how to improve your meetings.

  1. Forgive mistakes. If your team makes no mistakes, they’re not learning, and you could be developing them further. If you punish mistakes, you encourage conservative behaviour. Discuss the differences between acceptable mistakes versus critical failures. Maybe it’s good to test a new social media platform to discover it doesn’t work; but it’s never OK to engage in advertising that breaks the firm’s values.
  2. Question (and listen): When reviewing the way somebody worked or is planning to do something – question their thinking (in a positive way) and listen to the results. Showing you’re listening and helping them develop is more empowering that telling them what to do. Make sure you listen to their answer, introverts (especially) hate it when their answers are talked over and ignored.
  3. Set your ego aside. There are many people who want to be the smartest person in the room; if you’re always trying to show this to your team you will fail as a leader. What’s more most introvert value humility, so your ego is a big turn off to them.
  4. Inspire creative thinking. You may have been doing a task one way for your working life, and you know it works well. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Looking out for people doing it differently, praising them for the attempt and sharing it (if it works and is in “boundaries”) will encourage your team to share creative business ideas.

What did you find empowering when you worked for others? It won’t be be the whole answer, but it’s worth considering.

You may also like to read:

Or listen to: 

An interview with Helene Jewell of the International Association of Facilitators on how to improve your meetings.

Related content you may find useful:
empowerment | Feelings | Managing introverts | Managing staff | personal growth
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