How to strike the right balance on empowerment

Joanna Boxer

Empowerment is a cultural challenge that we hear from many of our clients. As a leader it can be tricky to find the right balance between control and freedom, but enabling greater empowerment will not only evolve your culture, but also increase motivation and unlock higher levels of performance.


Finding the right level of empowerment

We believe finding the right level of empowerment is based on three factors:

  1. The level of control a leader wants or feels they need to have.
  2. The knowledge, skills, and experience of the person a leader is empowering.
  3. The context and situation within which decisions are being made

We regularly hear feedback from clients that leaders are either micromanaging their people or are leaving them to fend for themselves. So what is behind this? Some leaders hold the belief that control is the best way to get results or there may be a fear, and corresponding lack of trust in their people to do the job. Regardless of the reasons why the result will be the same. Teams will be disengaged, demotivated, and performance will suffer. 

How can you get the balance right

The sweet spot, for you as a leader, is where you are purposefully considering the level of control you need based on the person you are empowering and the context of the work, or decision you’re making. For example, if a leader in your team is hiring, you might ask to review CVs, but the ultimate decision rests with your team member. Your goal is to get everyone in your team to be as empowered as possible, through assignments where they can develop the knowledge, skills, and experience that will mean they need less oversight, and are being stretched to the right level to maximise their performance.

This is not easy, and will change over time. It comes down to having a purposeful, open conversation with your team members, for example asking them at the start of a project ‘How are we going to work on this? ‘What input do you need from me?’ and agreeing how you will work together. To embed this type of contracting it needs to become part of your daily interactions with your team.

Increase empowerment to improve performance

Increasingly we see employees asking to be given more control and freedom to deliver. They want to feel trusted, have greater freedom to think and act, and to be empowered to take decisions. If you’re not empowering people to think for themselves and do things differently, then you will be missing out on diversity of thought, creativity and innovation. In short, you will get what you’ve always got and won’t achieve the shifts in culture and performance you’re looking for. Organisations that find the right balance on empowerment will have a competitive advantage in the new world of work.

Download empowerment ebook

For insights on culture view our selection of case studiesebooksreports and white papers or contact us to learn how we can transform your culture.


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