We all have control needs, but few recognize when our need to control runs wild, stifling others and hindering our effectiveness as a leader. There are frustrating bosses and effective leaders. Bosses control, leaders empower. People dislike bosses. Most love to work for and with an empowering leader. Hopefully, the following ten suggestions can help us become the empowering leaders we want to be.
1. Choose to Trust
You cannot empower someone if you do not trust them. For some, trusting others is difficult. We want it done right and we’re not sure anyone can do “it” as “right” as we can. “We trusted them once and they let us down.”
Truth is, we have plenty of reasons not to trust, and some are good reasons. That’s why I say “choose to trust.” Situation by situation, person by person, empowering leaders must choose to trust because trust does not come naturally for most.
2. Create a Safe Place
Choosing to trust a person or team makes creating a safe place for them possible. Safe places are created by safe people, who encourage open communication, listen carefully and treat others respectfully.
My all-time favorite professor was Dr. Berkeley Mickelsen. I cannot remember him ever criticizing or belittling anyone. He was so kind and affirming, we used to joke about it. “If Doctor Mickelsen asked why the author used the aorist tense, and a student responded, ‘Because twelve ducks flew over Moscow,’ he’d respond, ‘Well, yes. Thank you for sharing that interesting insight. Does anyone else have a thought about this?’” He was loved for many reasons, prime among them because it was safe to be wrong and even dumb around him.
Safe places go beyond communication. Equally important, an empowering leader creates a context where it’s safe to risk and fail, sometimes even rewarding the courage it took to risk despite the failure.
3. Be Clear
We empower others when we clearly define their roles, responsibilities, authority and our expectations. Are they playing quarterback, wide receiver, guard or center? Do they run with the ball, throw it, snap it or block? Do they call the plays, suggest plays, or simply wait ‘til the play is called and do their job? And when are they successful; when they complete the pass, make the block or when our team scores the touchdown?
4. Value What They Do
People want to contribute to worthwhile things. Even a menial task becomes fulfilling when they understand how it contributes to a grand cause. Recently I led an assessment at a church on the East Coast. The building was classic and some ways charming, but it was old. Like most old buildings it had some deferred maintenance issues. But when touring the building, the assessment team noticed every nook and cranny was spic and span clean.
The nursery was spotless. Not a fingerprint on a toy. Classroom carpets weren’t new, but they were so clean I wouldn’t fear having my grandchildren crawl on them. David, their volunteer custodian wasn’t just sweeping floors, dusting surfaces and washing windows. He was helping his church grow by making an old building welcoming to visitors and new, young families. He was making a welcoming place for children to learn about Jesus’ love and begin a life-long journey with Him. David took pride in his ministry and did his work with joy.
5. Express Confidence in Them
When still very young in ministry, I remember a grizzled old veteran pastor telling me. “People don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect.” Over time, I recognized he was just a cynical, controlling, old boss.
In my experience, people very often do exactly what you expect. If I have low expectations, they perform at a low level. If I have high expectations, they usually perform at a high level. In fact, if I express great confidence in them, they often far exceed what either they or I thought could be done. Meeting or exceeding great expectations leave people feeling empowered and satisfied.
6. Decide Together
Being told what to do is demotivating and demoralizing. But when included in the process of deciding what to do and how to do it, most people embrace the task and follow through diligently. It’s as simple as that. We own what we help create. People of all ages and generations appreciate the opportunity to participate in the creative process, but for most Millennials, participating, contributing to the decision-making process and working in teams is almost a non-negotiable.
7. Praise Effort and Success
Most people, even control-freak boss types read this and go, “Oh, yeah. Got it. I know that.” Problem is, we know it but often forget to do it. A simple, “Thank you,” motivates most people for weeks. Everyone appreciates being appreciated. We gladly follow leaders who appreciate us and what we do. If you want to be an empowering leader, be quick to shower praise. Make heroes of the people who are doing what needs to be done.
We become even more empowering when we praise not only success, but also effort. Sometimes unsuccessful effort leads to success. We hear, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Well the person who is praised for trying, in spite of failure, is far more likely to “try, try again,” until they finally succeed.
8. Reward Self-improvement
Mature people do for themselves. They know when they need help and can accept help when needed, but fundamentally, they take responsibility for themselves. Empowering leaders provide resources, training and growth opportunities for those they lead. They also recognize and reward self-initiated growth efforts.
9. Require Accountability
It’s a fact. Some people resist accountability. But the truth is, most people appreciate appropriate accountability. There are two facets to appropriate accountability.
First is “the who.” Many people think the pastor and staff work for them and are accountable to them. Few things in ministry are more exhausting than being “accountable” to “everyone.” A great weight is lifted when staff members know they are accountable to the Lead Pastor alone, and when the Lead Pastor knows they are accountable to the Board and only the Board, acting as a whole.
The second facet of accountability is “the what.” Knowing exactly what you are expected to accomplish helps you focus, adjust mid-course and recognize a “win” when it’s accomplished. Accountability increases motivation, effectiveness and satisfaction. When people are motivated, effective and satisfied, they know they are empowered.
10. Free Them from Bureaucratic Constraints
Constraints are obvious when contained in thick Policy and Procedures Manuals. Whittling policies and procedures down to a bare minimum goes a long way toward freeing and empowering people. There is, however, an even more important factor in freeing people from bureaucratic constraints.
Freeing people starts with us. Most often, the biggest constraints are people. Bosses who micromanage, to be specific. The good news in all this? If you want to avoid being the control freak, micro-managing boss and would rather be an empowering leader, just go back and review numbers 1-9 in this blog. Hopefully, they’ll help.