One of my favorite television shows ever was Seinfeld. One of the best episodes ever, was The Wizard from 1998. Most may remember this episode for its introduction to the “tip calculator” Jerry got his #1 Dad. However, I remember it for its leadership lesson on empowerment. Jerry was in Florida helping his Dad run for President of Del Boca Vista and received a phone call from Elaine who was in his apartment to pick up his mail. Right then, George walked in and questioned what Elaine was doing there. She told George she was here to pick up the mail. Jerry, sensing he was going to lose some credibility with George quickly moved into leadership mode and explained to George, “George, listen to me. I have a very important job for you…. I want you to come by twice a day and flush the toilet so the gaskets don’t dry out and leak.” George questioned his decision on not having him pick up the mail. Jerry again reiterated the critical task to George. “This is far more important. You *must* exercise the gaskets, George.” George stood a little taller and said, “All right, Jerry, I’ll do it!
Seinfeld kept his organization happy and healthy by keeping all of his followers engaged in the success of the inner circle by keeping them involved in critical improvement initiatives. In addition, he put his relationship on solid ground with George. By telling him HOW critical this task will be (You *must* exercise the gaskets), he empowered George.
In leadership, the word empowerment is thrown around often. I believe it is the Holy Grail to solving the greatest leadership challenges (time management, engaged employees, and execution of critical tasks). Many seek it but very few get to drink from it.
Empowerment to me is handing a project or task (no matter the size) to a member or members of the team while giving them the autonomy to create the process as long as the end result was the one communicated.
Many leaders I know who struggle with this key leadership principle provide the following excuses:
- My team is already too busy.
- They have never done it before.
- It is just faster if I do it.
- No one on my team is skilled enough to complete this task.
- This is something I have to do because I am the leader.
Here is the real reason. They do not trust anyone! As a result, they work incredibly long hours, miss important culture building functions (personal and professional), and never build a team.
Here are my four C’s to effective empowerment:
- Communicate the purpose: It is challenging to complete a task that is not clear to the team or individual who is responsible for the completion. Typically, this lack of communication comes from the lack of clarity of the visionary. As a result, the project gets lost in translation and doesn’t meet the expectations of the leader, eroding the trust that they will give away power again in the future. Secondly, leaders must communicate the critical role the completion of this project will play. Like George Costanza, your team will want to know they and the work they complete is valuable.
- Choose wisely: An error that many leaders make is they empower people on their team that do not have the competency, creativity, capacity and a desire to finish the project. Instead they volley back and forth to their “go to” people or worse, set up ineffective employees to fail with a project larger than their abilities. Leaders must know the skill sets and gift zones of each of their team members. They also must have an understanding of their current workload. This way they make sure their top team members are not loaded down with lower level tasks and they can focus on the projects that grow the organization and generates more sweat equity.
- Calendar check ins: There should be a consistent scheduled check in by the leader on the progress of the project. This will allow the team/individual to ask questions and the leader to provide feedback and coach the team towards victory. Without these check ins the project could steer well off course and increases the chance the leader will just take over the project; diminishing any hopes of the team making the leader proud of them.
- Celebrate the learning and accomplishments: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Building an effective organization means you have understand that you are not required to do everything, you might be responsible for it all, but not required to do it. That means you must be in a constant mindset of team building and growing. This means celebrating the successes of the team as well as reflecting on the losses/learning. Having an open mindset as a leader is critical to the success of your team members. There will be errors made along the way, but they will not learn if you do everything for them.
One can build an incredibly successful organization through empowering employees to solve problems—but it will challenge your organization from the inside. Freeing employees to experiment with new ideas, to make high-profile decisions on the fly, to build systems everyone utilizes, and to effectively speak for the organization in public is not something most organizations are accustomed to doing. However, if you aim to take the organization where it has never been before, it is a non-negotiable to successful leadership.
This blog was written by Dr. Thomas Miller, CEO of Leaders Building Leaders. An organization focused on being the difference maker in the leadership development of individuals and organizations. If you found this helpful, comment, share or email Tom at [email protected].