7 Ways to Inspire Your Direct Reports
Career consultant Diana Henderson weighs in on leading by empowerment.
More and more companies are moving to flatter organizational structures and high growth start-ups often start that way. This means fewer levels of management and more responsibility and accountability “lower" in the organization. There are advantages as well as disadvantages to this approach—the benefits are that companies enjoy lower overhead and improved speed of decision-making and communication, however, the downside is that, by function of necessity, employees wind up operating as generalists more than specialists. Companies with flatter structures typically either survive in this approach or they can thrive. The key difference is that successful organizations recognize the importance of one fundamental, yet pivotal thing: empowered employees. I’m a firm believer that all ships rise with the tide. When you establish a culture of empowerment, you reap the rewards of employee satisfaction, low turnover/high retention and greater productivity. Essentially, everybody wins. There’s no one silver bullet to empowering your employees—but many. For those of you leaders looking to inspire and raise up empowered employees, here are a few tips that I’ve found to be successful:
1. Trust your people
In the absence of trust, your employees will operate in fear. Fear of not meeting your expectations, fear of taking risks, fear of failing. The way to demonstrate trust is to assign a task and then get out of the way. Likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the creativity applied and you’ll receive, in return, ideas you wouldn’t have considered. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it."
2. Set clear expectations for the “why”
When you share the thinking behind a task, change in direction or decision, you cast a vision that your people can get behind and use to motivate them for the charge ahead. Once your “why” is communicated, you don’t have to worry about the “how.” That’s now the responsibility of your people. If there are "non-negotiables” to be considered, share those, but nothing more.
3. Ask, don’t tell
Isn’t it like a boss to articulate a problem and the solution in the same breath? Instead, try stating the problem/issue/objective and give your employee the freedom to recommend the solution or approach. Use questions to stimulate empowerment. For instance, “We need to grow our customer base in our secondary markets. How should we do that?” Or, “Our service metrics show a decline in satisfaction. What do you think is causing that? How do you think we can get it back on track? What do you think I might be overlooking?"
4. Allow mistakes
Mistakes are inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. In a culture of empowerment, the focus isn’t on the mistake, it’s on the recovery. You’ll wow your people if you encourage them to recover instead of harp on the error. There’s a reason the windshield in a car is much bigger than the rearview mirror — forward-focused, not past-possessed! After all, it’s often in our failures that our greatest success is conceived.
5. Know their strengths
Good leaders surround themselves with people that model strengths other than their own. Hire people that are strong where you’re not and then put them to work in those areas. Taking it one step further, tell them that you’re putting their strengths to work. “Tricia, you’re great in front of people and you read an audience well. I’d like for you to give the pitch for the next prospective client meeting.”
6. Humble yourself
If you want to inspire your people, show a little humility. Admit your mistakes, give credit where credit is due and let your hair down. When you appear to be a "normal person" to your people, they can relate. Sharing (select) personal stories with your team is a great way to do this.
7. Celebrate success
When you recognize milestones, achievements and performance wins, you set the table for your people to experience honor. In addition to major accomplishments, make it a practice to notice and then highlight little things. For instance, “Suzie, I loved how you remembered details about this company and brought them up in your conversation today. Thank you for caring so well for our customers.” The little things will leave a lasting impression.