Empowerment – the key to growth

Picture by supriya

In English there is the beautiful word “empowerment” – literally meaning “to give power to someone”. This is a nice metaphor for developing personal responsibility. In a company it is the key to growth, because the company can only grow if its people grow. Leaders have an important role to play as gardeners.

A few years ago, I had a discussion with an older colleague about leadership styles. He was very intelligent and had reflected a lot about leadership topics. We introduced the new mindset required for Agile. Analytically, he came to the conclusion that it was all about the two archetypes of “encourage or challenge”.

After all, there are managers who only drive over challenging (“not smurfing is sufficient appraisal”) and others who encourage rather gently personal growth.

I disagreed because for me this is not a contradiction. No one would come up with the idea of driving a car only by the accelerator pedal or only by the brake. So why should we always work with people at full throttle until they are burned out? Both belong to the toolset of a leader – and as with all tools, it’s all about the artful handling.

We quickly laugh at soccer moms who terrorize neighbors and teachers from their suburban tanks. In their daily battle for the best for the offspring, they sprout out claws in all directions. We gleefully think of the provisions that are due for later psychotherapies. But the impact is massive when the psychologist won’t be able to fix the caused mental damage.

But what is it like in working life? Don’t we sometimes tend towards such behavior patterns? We set up micro-controlling, bash our employees internally and defend them with claws against external attacks. When we honestly look ourselves in the mirror, we are sometimes no different.

I don’t draw the analogy to children because I want to deny seniority to employees, but because I see it as one of the most important tasks of a leader to develop employees. It’s about giving people more confidence and helping them to grow.

This may be easier in a consulting environment because there are more frequent changes in roles and thus rapid career jumps are possible through succession. In a line organization, you always work a bit against your own position, especially when developing high potentials.

But from my point of view, that’s part of it: Either you develop yourself further in your career or you accept that employees may overtake you. It’s a matter of attitude whether you feel threatened or confirmed.

Personal accountability is strengthened by trust and the transfer of responsibility. A good practical example of this are the evolutionary stages of problem solving – I’ll describe them later in this blog.

The introduction of an Agile organization is impossible without empowerment. In this form of organization, the task of a manager is to make employees independent and ultimately to manage yourself out of the job.

As a reward, you can feel the parental pride celebrating first successes – and sometimes you even have to treat a few sore knees. In any case, it increases the satisfaction of both employees and leaders. And the company also grows through individual growth.

What about you?

How do you lead – challenge or encourage?

Do you develop empowerment?

How do you behave under stress?

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