Empowering people is not necessarily the same thing as delegating to them.

Delegation does not equal empowerment.

You can delegate tasks to people while still taking away all the decision-making involved in those tasks. Empowerment not only trusts someone to carry out a task or process, it also trusts them to make decisions as well.

For example, if you delegate the task of delivering a file to someone at a certain time and place, there’s no decision-making, just legwork. Empowering team members means you not only trust them to do the legwork but also to make decisions along the way. Outcomes between simple delegates and empowered persons can be vastly different.

Empowerment, Self-Efficacy, and Psychological Ownership

A 2017 study by researchers at Central Michigan University found that “empowering leadership was positively related to both self-efficacy and psychological ownership, which in turn were both negatively related to deviant behaviors.” In other words, people empowered by their leaders took responsibility for and accomplished tasks, and they were less likely to do bad things.

Psychological ownership of responsibility is something you can’t really expect from those you delegate to. But it goes along fittingly with empowerment. When someone has “ownership” of responsibility, they feel a stronger obligation to get results, even if they have to do things differently than expected in order to get them. They’re willing to do this because they believe their leader has their back.

Trust, Responsibility Foundational to Empowerment

If the concepts of trust and responsibility are not deeply embedded in team attitudes, empowerment is hard to accomplish. A team member who does not feel that their leader trusts them with all aspects of their allotted tasks is unlikely to do anything beyond what is strictly required, and why should they? If they’re going to take responsibility, they need to know their leader fully trusts their judgment and skills.

Responsibility must also be connected in every team member’s mind to the accomplishment of overall team goals. People need to know their work isn’t done in isolation, but is essential to bigger accomplishments, and that team members can rely on everyone to do their part to the best of their ability. Empowerment assumes more risk than delegation, but it leads to better engagement in tasks, higher morale, and greater pride in doing things well.

Pride in work well done is a huge benefit of empowerment.

Steps to Empowering Team Members

Delegation is not a bad thing. In fact, it is often the first step to empowerment. When a delegated task is done well, you can allow greater leeway with each subsequent delegation, until you and the team member have a strong sense of what they are capable of, and how much responsibility they are willing and able to assume. Other steps to an empowered team include:

  • Setting clear expectations
  • Ensuring all team members have the resources they need
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Listening to ideas for doing things differently
  • Recognizing team members for exceptional work

These steps must take place in team relationships bonded by trust and a sense of shared responsibility.

Empowering team members leads to teams that are more creative and helpful. It cultivates greater engagement in tasks, and makes work a better place to be. The strongest corporate cultures are built on principles of trust and responsibility, and those concepts are repeatedly highlighted with every action of the empowered team.

Empowering teams does not necessarily come easily to many leaders. They want things done right, and they don’t want team members’ actions to reflect poorly upon other team members or themselves. Many leadership development programs cover empowerment, and it’s critical for every leader to know that it isn’t just another buzzword.

Leadership coaching can assist leaders with important concepts like team empowerment, helping them understand what it is, what it isn’t, and specific steps to take to build empowerment into their team. One reason leadership coaching is so effective is that it goes beyond helping leaders learn how to empower their teams, encouraging them to put their empowerment skills into action repeatedly, until they become natural.

Done well and consistently, empowerment results in better attainment of individual goals, team goals, leadership goals, and company goals. If you would like to explore the concept of empowerment of teams by leaders, I encourage you to learn more about my executive coaching services.


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