As a team leader, you’re expected to delegate and produce results through your team rather than do everything on your own.

That means empowering people so they can act independently, bring their best to the task, and deliver outsized results for the team and the organization.

The challenge is there’s no manual for being that inspiring leader who empowers their team. And of course, you still have your own work and responsibilities to handle too.

It’s no wonder that despite best intentions, leaders can struggle to get the empowerment piece right.

Maybe you’re not sure how to empower your team. Or you’ve done your best to empower people but they still rely on you to tell them what to do. Either way, you’re not alone and there is a way forward.

Here are three essential steps you can start taking now to develop an engaged and empowered team, ready to achieve big goals:

  • Provide clarity on what’s expected
  • Give your team access to what they need to do the job
  • Give people freedom to act

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Provide clarity on what’s expected

Your team members need clarity on what kinds of decisions they can take and which ones they need to elevate.

Just as you would select “age-appropriate toys” when giving gifts, the idea here is to give “stage-appropriate” parameters on what degree of decision-making and autonomy people can have. This takes some of the fear factor out of empowering your team. You’re not saying they can all make decisions that will bet the future of the unit without checking in with you first.

As part of this, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the mission of the team is, how their role fits into it, and your expectations for the kinds of decisions and action-taking parameters they are free to exercise.

Equally, it’s helpful to get clear on what’s not okay. For example, you don’t want them to “spin their wheels” on a task and feel afraid to come back to you for clarification. And maybe it’s not okay to share certain details with people outside the team while you’re in the development phase of a project.

Which leads to the next step.

Give your team access to what they need to do the job

This means providing access to information, opportunity and resources.

Information is one of the simplest to provide, yet the most easily missed. When you share information with your team, they’ll not only be armed with key inputs for making better decisions, but also feel like they are in the “in” group, that they’re a valued part of the team and not just a cog in the wheel.

Are you briefing the team on your strategic thinking and what you hear from senior management?

This level of insight that you gain will help your team members feel like an “insider” who’s connected to what’s going on. When they understand what senior management is thinking and what the priorities are for the organization, your team members will be armed with key information they can use to produce better ideas and results.

It will also force you to summarize and synthesize what’s been said, which is a good thing for you to do to absorb the main messages and practice communicating them in a powerful way.

Unless it’s confidential, don’t let updates and key information stop with you. This is also good for your own career because top management expects you to cascade messages down to team members and it reflects poorly if you don’t.

As for opportunities, your team members will feel more empowered by bringing them to meetings or inviting them to join internal calls. Especially when the topic relates to or affects their work.

It’s demoralizing to learn from that your boss had a meeting on the topic of your work but didn’t invite you or even let you know what happened after the fact. That’s the kind of “think-o” (as in typo) that great leaders don’t make.

As for resources, this is mainly to make the technology, staffing and funds available for them to do their job well. So make sure you’re communicating with your team to find out what they need.

This leads to the next step.

Give people freedom to act

This means freedom to find their own way ways of doing things, which might not be your way.

This means being open to others’ ideas for what to do and how to do it. Pressure-testing your assumptions about the “right way” to do something, and not “punishing” people for bringing ideas you don’t like.

It also means giving people room to make mistakes, and then having their back and helping them recover. A great leader doesn’t blame their team members. Mistakes are inevitable, and they result in great learning opportunities. Of course you don’t want them to be fatal to the project or group, but that goes back to setting “stage appropriate” decisions you agree with each team member.

People feel empowered when they have autonomy to do the job in the way they think is best. On the flipside, if it’s demoralizing if everything is predetermined and all they have to do is complete the tasks by rote.

So let your team members bring their own ideas and creativity to the work. You’ll benefit from the energy, engagement and outcomes that result.

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Just don’t dampen their enthusiasm

Once you’ve given people the freedom, resist the urge to dip back in. I’ve been guilty of that on many occasions, and when I step back in to give advice that the team hasn’t asked for, I can feel the dampening of their enthusiasm.

There’s a silence which I have come to realize is my sign to say, “I’ve done it again – dipping back in when you’ve got this under control!” Then we can all laugh about it and the team inevitably comes back with a better solution than the one I was suggesting.

Empower your team and watch them flourish

You’ve hired smart people. Empower them to act autonomously and let them flourish! You’ll get better results and be more likely to retain your team members. And you can turn your attention to the next level of thinking and acting that your managers expect from you.

As you go forward to empower your team, remember to:

  • Provide clarity on what’s expected – be clear on what decisions they can make without checking back in with you and which ones they need to elevate.
  • Give your team access to what they need to do the job – not just resources, but also information and opportunities to be part of senior management conversations.
  • Give people freedom to act – be open to other ways of doing things, give people room to make mistakes and help them recover.

What step will you take to empower your team?

Leave a comment and let me know.