Ten Ways To Empower People
In chapter four of the book my father and I co-authored, “Opposite the Crowd,” my dad, Alan, chronicles his early years — from his first memory to his first “grown-up job.”
Alan was only 15 when he lost his dad, Carol, to cancer. The family-owned business, Burkhard Hardware, burned to the ground shortly before Carol passed away. Alan literally watched the walls collapse in the blaze. It was a period of great loss for my dad, but times weren’t just hard for him back then. They were tough on my grandmother, Rose, and her other sons (my dads’ brothers).
As Rose mourned, Alan became increasingly independent – by necessity. He had food, shelter, and clothing, but for the most part, he was left to his own devices. Alan sort of flew the coop, as the saying goes, and found himself walking the line between being a good kid and finding trouble. He had freedom — and he took full advantage of it.
During this phase of early independence, Alan gained an understanding of learning from mistakes. Like most young people, he was figuring out who he was. He was on his journey to see the world. He had to learn to live by being free and failing often.
Using his experiences from his younger years, Alan developed a philosophy about “helicopter parenting” that offers transferrable insights that can be applied to “helicopter leaders,” as I call them. In our book, he said:
“That independence [that I had] is what I would ask parents to do today – empower their children to the point that it hurts. Empower them more than you would ever imagine. Because of the value in empowering them and letting them fall, in letting them take jobs they shouldn’t, letting them have friends that they shouldn’t, etc. Empower them; let them take a trip. As a parent, today, let up. Empower them. Let them be free. Let them learn about life, and it will benefit them.
They’ll go to school, they’ll go to college, they’ll learn, and they’ll end up somewhere with what interests them. There’s plenty of time for that. It doesn’t have to be between eighteen and twenty-two. That’s a precious time to be free to try things and to learn. That’s what I wanted my kids to do, and that’s what I want all parents to do. Kids need that.”
Many parents are looking for the “answer” to effective parenting. Likewise, many leaders are looking for the “answer” to effective leadership. They want to sharpen their skills. How do we all get a true understanding of what it takes to empower people? It starts by defining empowerment.
When people are empowered, they have the capacity and control over their lives. When you empower people, you’re giving them the support they need to pursue their goals in their own way. One of the most effective, yet least understood leadership skills, is understanding and leveraging empowerment. It takes a dedicated effort.
I was taught that, as a leader, true “command” is attained, when you give away control and give it back to your team. The same can be said when raising young adults.
When done well, empowerment inspires accountability and responsibility in employees (or children when looking through the parent lens). Micromanagement doesn’t allow for freedom and demonstrates that trust is low. Outcomes suffer.
Empowerment Strategies for the Workplace and Home:
1. Get to know people. I use the acronym G.P.S.: goals, passions, and struggles. Slow down –listen. Carve out time and create an environment to actually hear so rewarding conversations ensue.
2. Share everything. Leaders and parents often don’t share enough. I was taught to tell the truth and share one degree more than is expected. As the president of a company, I make it a habit to share more than is expected. For parents, this can be tough with teenagers. I gained miles of trust by being honest — professionally and personally.
3. Set up others for success. Ask: Who needs what? Ask employees what they need to run with a project; then, help them find the resources, relationships, or work tools they need to get the task done.
4. Get out of the way. Don’t meddle. Work together. Agree on how and when to check in, and what type of updates you want.
5. Make it known that it’s ok to fail. “Culture” needs to make room for failure. All great businesses make it safe to fail, learn, and grow. So many times leaders and parents say: “Go make mistakes,” but when mistakes happen, they get upset.
6. Show trust. As a leader or parent, demonstrate trust; it inspires others to go above and beyond. When doling out assignments, provide a clear outline of expectations and goals, then let others approach the job their own way.
7. Establish regular rules of engagement. Ask questions instead of telling people what to do. Use this strategy when talking to teams and kids. How leaders and parents present, sets the tone for empowerment.
8. Check stress levels. Cool heads prevail in the heat of the moment. This is a good example to set when pushing empowerment. If stress causes the walls to close in, take five minutes, take a day, go on a walk, whatever it takes to breathe.
9. Teach. Develop the skills of others. Share something new. Plan to help teams and family members by sharing the knowledge it takes to do their jobs or figure out life.
10. Own it. Authority is defined by the act of empowerment. Clarify that employees or children know they have room and discretion to own it.
Special thanks to my good friend and mentor, Frank, who read my mind on the empowerment topic. It’s my sincere hope that this starts a conversation. Feel free to send me a note and suggestions for adding to the list above by replying directly to this email.
Until next time,
If you enjoyed this article, I recommend reading these past Outside Insights posts:
Cut The Strings On Puppeteer Leadership
Live The Life You Want Not The One You Have
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (For Me)
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