Unfortunately, the word “empowerment” has, for many, become nothing more than a tired, old cliche–something that I’ve been teasing people about for years (like in this video clip, for example).
Even though the value of empowerment is, ostensibly, conventional wisdom by now, it’s still the rare leader that does it and does it well. Most get caught up in a faulty, self-sabotaging thought process that goes something like this:
Empowerment = I give them control = I extend them my trust = they take advantage of me and/or screw it up = I get blamed = I lose my job = I lose my house = forget it.
I’m not going to suggest that people will NEVER take advantage of you or screw things up when given the opportunity; that would be naive. Most of the time, however, people will meet the challenge beautifully, and many times they’ll go way beyond what you expect.
Keith’s career as a software engineer with GE took him from the UK to Milwaukee. He eventually moved to California to work with a medical device company as a leader on the oncology team.
As a new leader on a new team, Keith wanted to make a significant demonstration of his belief and trust in the staff. So at a meeting early in his tenure, he gave everyone a voucher that they could use in a variety of ways:
1. They could go out to lunch anywhere they wanted. Anywhere. As long as they went with someone else on the team and talked about work.
2. They could buy any book they wanted.
3. They could spend up to $1000.00 to get any software or software upgrade they needed for their work.
As you can imagine, word of this meeting spread like wildfire through the organization, and before he knew it, Keith got a frantic call from his boss who was not only angry, but terrified that these people were about to fritter away the company’s hard-earned cash on frivolous lunches and worthless crap. But convinced that his boss was wrong, Keith let his team run with the voucher program.
Three weeks later, Keith did a quick accounting of the expenses and was shocked at what he found.
The entire group–combined, collectively, all together–had spent a grand total of three hundred dollars.
He’d given them the cash because he WANTED them to spend it on building the team, growing their knowledge, and increasing their productivity. They, on the other hand, were so honored by his gesture, that they were being exceedingly thoughtful and strategic about how they were going to invest the money they’d been entrusted with.
And, no surprise, they went on to become a tight and productive team.
So, how about you? Can you find a way to extend real, tangible, hard-core trust to the people you work with?
Let’s hear how. Bonus points to the most creative approach.