By Drew Hendricks, Contributor. 2014.
Managers can attest to this experience: You ask an employee to carry out a task that has enough flexibility for creative input. Rather than making their own decisions, the employee comes to you with an onslaught of questions, trying to pin down the exact parameters of the task. You become exasperated, wondering why the employee has to ask you permission for every tiny detail.
This isn’t an unusual phenomenon – it can be difficult to break out of the leader-follower mindset at the workplace. In fact, researchers from Penn State, Claremont McKenna College, and Tsinghua University find that only rare, “transformational leaders” are able to prevent employees from being excessively reliant on their bosses, cultivating instead a staff that feels empowered and self-guided. Trust and business acumen are some of the cornerstones in building this type of work culture. We can use this wisdom to train informed and decisive teams that we can trust. Here are six specific ways to empower your employees and get back precious time.
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(Photo credit: Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership)
1. Encourage In-The-Moment Feedback
It’s common for companies to conduct employee surveys occasionally to discover workplace concerns, workflow issues, and success stories. However, these issues can get lost with time, and it’s difficult to bring up specific issues if they happened too long ago.
Instant, on-the-spot feedback is one way for your team TISI -1.65% to communicate workflow issues to one another, so that proper action can taken right away. Make sure to set ground rules for this feedback – it must be both constructive and respectful. Essentially, you want your team to trust you and each other to deliver honest and helpful praise and criticism.
2. Cultivate the Executive Mentality
How often have you heard someone say that they have no idea what their boss does? Even if you’re busy and an effective leader, your team can quickly lose respect for you if a certain transparency isn’t in place. Chances are, most of your employees aren’t used to thinking at the executive level, since they’re busy with their own tasks and processes. However, you don’t want them to get so wrapped up in the small things that they can’t see the big picture.
Host regular meetings with your team, and share with them the large happenings within your organization. Help your team understand the main goals that you’re driving toward. Give them a rundown on how other divisions are performing – the more pieces of the puzzle your team gains, the easier it will be for them to enter the “executive mindset.”
3. Present New Challenges and Opportunities
It’s important to challenge your employees so they can demonstrate and achieve their full potential. For example, you might notice that your sales representative tends to rely heavily on email interactions – challenge them to get on the phone instead, and get outside of their comfort zone. You can also work with their unique interests and abilities – for example, you might notice that an employee loves to assist her team with processes. Invite this person to lead a customer workshop, so that she can develop her presentation skills and build stronger client bonds. Or you might discover that a coworker is bilingual, and ask him to work with international customers. If you’re out of ideas, sit down with each member of your team and ask them what types of experiences would help them grow professionally.
4. Respect Their Boundaries
This step is a natural follow-up to “present new challenges.” While you want to push your employees to embrace new experiences, you don’t want to shove them so far out of their comfort zone that it becomes a negative experience. For example, you shouldn’t ask an employee to take on a task that’s outside the realm of their role – they’ll feel like you’ve tossed them out to the lions. If you’re ever unsure about an employee’s comfort level, don’t hesitate to check in and ask!
5. Give Them Flexibility
Okay, so you might be used to gripping the steering wheel really tight while directing your team. It’s time to let your employees drive. Examine your workflow, and identify key areas that would benefit from greater flexibility and creative input. These tasks might include content creation, marketing strategies, and company events. Sit down with your team and explain how much flexibility they will each have within a task. Don’t leave it open-ended – give them some parameters to work with so that they’re not overwhelmed with options.
6. Don’t Babysit
Giving up control and empowering your team can be a terrifying experience for many leaders. You might feel compelled to watch their every move and peek over their shoulders. But by monitoring someone’s every move, you’re actually impeding his or her ability to grow. Give your team some space, trust them, and you might be impressed by what they’re able to achieve. Tim Ferriss wrote about his difficulty with coming to this decision and how successful it was in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. He’s now a strong advocate for employee autonomy.
Breaking out of the traditional leader-follower mindset can help you create stronger staff bonds founded on trust, self-confidence, and achievement. When you create room for independent work and decision-making, your team might discover that they’re able to achieve far more than they originally thought possible. Test drive these leadership techniques, and see what your own team is really capable of.