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Empowerment: Bringing Out the Best in Your People

Make good employees great by giving them control.

By Richard Ensman

“Empowerment.” You hear the term everywhere these days—particular in the business world. Any business leader would agree that empowerment is a good thing, but when you get right down to it, what does empowerment really mean? And more importantly, how does a leader or manager actually empower people on a day-to-day basis? Here are a few thoughts on becoming an empowering leader. By displaying these qualities you’ll help the people around you become more effective, productive and, ultimately, empowered.

When the people around you see that you value inventiveness and ingenuity, they will respond.

Encourage ideas. While your leadership role might involve the exercise of authority, remember that authority has its limits. When you create an environment that celebrates new ideas, you stimulate innovation and high performance. How can you make this happen? Draw out the hidden thoughts of your people. Ask for help. Ask for suggestions.

Get out of the way. Often, employees find themselves stuck in a morass of paperwork, bureaucracy or rules that inhibit them from doing their best work. While you can’t cut out compliance completely, remember that good employees bring expertise and wisdom to the table. Help them use those gifts by removing the procedural trappings that prevent sound action.

Enlist opinions. One of the most common complaints among employees is not being listened to. When you’re planning a new course of action—something as significant as a new prospecting campaign or as seemingly trivial as rearranging the office layout—ask what your people think. The more they feel they have a say in the decision, the more they’ll agree with it, and ultimately, feel more empowered to act productively on your behalf.

Grant authority. There’s an old maxim in business—and it’s been proven time and again—that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. If you don’t have to make a decision on something, don’t; let the people around you, those closest to the action, do it.

Invite goals. Don’t just set goals yourself. Ask others to set them. This can be done through a planning retreat, with the help of an outside facilitator, or through informal discussion and debate. However you do it, involve your people in the process as much as possible.

Redefine supervision. Supervision need not—and should not—simply mean “checking in” or controlling projects and tasks. When you’re supervising employees, let them set the agenda for your weekly or bi-weekly conferences. Then, instead of offering direction or instruction, offer suggestions and guidance.

Getting There

Empowerment doesn’t happen by itself. First and foremost, your own attitude and actions help foster an empowering atmosphere. But you can create empowerment in other ways as well:

  • Hire motivated, entrepreneurial people.
  • Be sure your policies explicitly value initiative and involvement.
  • Train the people around you in decision-making, planning and creative action.
  • Encourage open, honest communication at every turn.

Celebrate mistakes. Well, no, you’re never going to be happy about mistakes. But when they happen—and they will—you have an opportunity to reaffirm the intrinsic worth of your people and, with them, learn from their mistakes. Replace fear and recriminations with evaluation and new determination and you’ll create empowered people.

Reward initiative. When the people around you see that you value inventiveness and ingenuity, they will respond. You’ll begin to notice fertile new ideas, a willingness to tackle thorny problems without being asked and a positive, upbeat spirit about the issues you face. Offer praise, recognition and tangible rewards when you see initiative abound. You’ll be rewarded, in turn, with even more resourcefulness on the part of your people.

Richard Ensman is a contributor to He can be reached at

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