Updated: Jan 1, 2020
I've been faced with the question of what good leadership is, or what makes a great leader over the past 6 months or so more times than I can count. This question is of course a complex one and one that often depends on the context of that leadership, be that in the public eye, a captain or coach of a sports team, or a manager in a corporate office. That all being said, there is one word I continuously return to and that is Empowerment.
Let's contemplate a scenario: You're at the gym trying out a new personal trainer, and they're putting you through a gruelling workout. You feel like you can't go any further, your lungs are about to beat out of your chest, and your arms feel like they're going to fall off. At this point your personal trainer comes over right next to you and gives you the pep talk you need: "There's a resevoir of power still left inside you. I see you, you have more to give. Don't stop, don't give up. Overcome your mental walls right here right now. Your body isn't going to quit on you, so don't let your mind stop you. You're working out, it's supposed to hurt. Keep going." You pump out the last 10 reps with more energy than you started doing the exercises with, and a wave of euphoria comes over you, not only did you do it, but you pushed past your limits. This is empowerment.
This begs the question: if it works in the gym, why isn't this style of motivation and leadership used more often in other areas? When was the last time you saw a manager come up and ask you for your ideas? Tell you that they believe in you and that not only do they want you to succeed but they want to give you more responsibilities and freedoms because they know you can and will handle it. In the case that you can't for some reason, you are made to feel empowered to speak freely with your manager. The same goes for sports teams. Coaches that empower their players to be themselves, play in a way that's natural to them, and carry a load of responsibility because the coach and leaders on the team believe in them. This is when the players shine.
I've always felt like helping others to fulfil and even exceed their own expectations should be something that everyone has programmed into themselves. Unfortunately more than once I've been challenged with the fact that this isn't reality. So how do we empower others? I believe that the first step to empowering others is showing that their opinions and work matters and is appreciated. Without this key piece, empowerment to, for instance, take on more responsibility will have the opposite affect. The next step is trust. If a person feels trusted, they also feel better about growing. With trust comes a freedom to speak one's mind, which is important in knowing how one wants or needs to be empowered. My last step is freedom. Give those you are leading the freedom to choose certain activities when possible, the freedom to make mistakes that they can learn from, and the freedom to choose their own path and their own ways of working. At this point you have empowered someone and only need to continue encouraging them on their way until they fully bloom into their potential. Some example questions to empower those around you may sound something like: What types of activities would help you advance your career? Which activities do you enjoy doing? What types of activities would help you to grow? Do you have a desire to take on more responsibility in your role? How do you see yourself advancing / growing?
What is it about empowering others that makes us great leaders? The best leaders are those who have learned how to follow first. They know what it means to walk in their underling's shoes. Through this experience they also know that being a good leader has little to nothing to do with themselves, but is all about the team around them. By taking a back seat and allowing their team not only to flourish, but allowing them to make mistakes and grow from those mistakes, a leader can go from one that's disliked and seen as a micromanager or a tyrant to a genius. Besides, who doesn't want to work or play for someone who makes them feel like they're appreciated, growing, and an integral piece of the team?
Empowerment is one of the main reasons why coaching is such a successful method of leading and developing people. Asking the right questions, empowering people to come up with their own answers, getting the opportunity to plan, develop, and think for oneself rather than being told what to do as is so common throughout our lives is the definition of empowerment. Everyone has an ego, and most people believe that their views in terms of their own lives are more valuable than other's, and it is. Let's accept those views and find a way to build off of those to help each other feel empowered, and to achieve our goals.