You’re Empowered

There’s a line between employees needing to ask permission and allowing them to make decisions.  The line varies depending on what the issue or circumstance, but a recent example made me think about my own employees.

Empowerment builds trust, confidence and ownership.  It also builds loyalty.  Sometimes employees ask because they don’t know, other times they ask because they aren’t allowed.  Or think they are not allowed.

As leaders, it is our job to help our employees understand their roles, and with that, their decision-making responsibility.  I’ve known colleagues who are such micro-managers that their employees do not feel empowered to do much of anything.  What you are saying to your employees is, “I don’t trust you.”  This builds detachment and ultimately, former employees.

I do not have a large staff, but I’m asked about weekly about whether we can purchase something, hold an employee event or change something in the workplace.  On some issues, I am glad they ask me, because it can impact a large number of employees or there may be circumstances they are not aware.  On a few of those things I have to ask my supervisor. 

Generally, though, the issues brought to me are not large but need a bit of review.  When I can, I turn the request around and ask what they think.  I ask for their opinion and if they see other considerations.  Sometimes the answer to the issue is apparent in our conversation.  Other times, I am asking them to weigh the alternatives and to better understand what is at stake.  In reality, I am wanting them to be part of decision.

I don’t have a problem making a decision, and with some of the more unpleasant things, that’s my job.  What I prefer, is to ask my employees to make a recommendation and tell me how they arrived at it.  If it is an issue that impacts other employees, I might want to hear from some of those employees.

Today, a very responsible employee came into my office and asked about purchasing some special paper to laminate some tags.  She carefully showed me what the tags looked like and what they were going to be used for, which is to be an event to benefit kids.  I told her I had no problem purchasing the paper.  She thanked me, but I stopped her and told her that from now on, I trusted her to make those kinds of decisions. I told her my permission was not needed on things like that, if she felt it was a good value for a good purpose, do it.  She looked at me with a look of surprise but a positive one.  She said thanks and it seemed to register with her that I was saying, “I trust you.”

This is just a small example, but it made me think. Have I not communicated effectively that I trust my folks and want them to use their values to make decisions?  Apparently, I have some work to do. Looking back, this is not the first time that an employee has asked me something I felt they should be handling instead of me.  I’ve try to convey that I don’t have to make those decisions, or at least I thought I had. Maybe they see me as a mircomanager.  If they do, shame on me.

As a leader, my job is to place employees in a position to be successful and to build their confidence as well as their abilities.  Today, I learned a valuable lesson, much more valuable than the dollars for the paper. I need to do a better job conveying that I trust them. I do.

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