Talk Openly And Build Trust To Help Your Team Grow
As machines become accurate and intelligent, we humans will need to sharpen our human skills. I have compiled a series of articles titled “eLearning Skills 2030” to explore all the skills to help you future-proof your career and make your job easier. One of your primary responsibilities as a learning and development leader is to ensure that you empower your team and the workforce to develop these skills. This article explores how to foster, why it is critical, and how to sharpen it.
What Is Empowerment?
Empowerment is the process of becoming stronger and more confident in taking decisions and actions. As a leader, you need to empower others within your team and your organization by providing them the opportunity and latitude to grow and lead in their own contexts. In his seminal research on leading self-directed work teams, Kimball Fisher delineated four critical components of potential:
- Authority, whereby employees need the latitude to evaluate situations, assess risks, and take appropriate action to improve processes or solve problems without additional approval.
- Resources, whereby employees have access to people, time, funding, and training.
- Information, whereby employees need access to timely and accurate information and data so that they can make effective and timely decisions and take action.
- Accountability, which is a crucial complementing element of empowerment. Empowerment does not imply free reign. I often define leadership as a coin with two sides: potential and accountability. When we are empowered by others or empower ourselves to take action, we are also accountable for the decisions we make and the results we deliver.
Why Is Fostering Empowerment Critical?
Promoting potential is vital to the employee experience, customer satisfaction, and organizational performance. It is also a foundational leadership skill you must develop. United States Army General Colin Powell discussed the importance of potential in his book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadershipstating that empowering junior officers under his command strengthened trust, built stronger teams, and improved mission outcomes.
How To Foster Empowerment In Your Organization
Fostering potential requires continuous effort. It is not a “one and done” deal. While, as stated earlier, you will need to provide your team with authority, resources, and information, these are not enough. In addition to these elements, you will need to apply several tactics to ensure you are doing it right, including cultivating open communication, building trust, creating psychological safety, rewarding creativity and innovation, and requiring accountability.
Model Open Communication
Open communication is critical, and you can cultivate it by communicating openly, both verbally and in writing. Share your perspective authentically, ask questions, listen actively, and encourage your team to do the same. Renown GE CEO Jack Welch said that candor is one of the critical traits of a leader that communicates well.
To build trust, you must ensure that your values, ideas, words, and actions always align and are conveyed authentically and honestly. You must honor your commitments and not be afraid to show vulnerability in the face of difficulty. Without trust, it will be challenging to communicate, collaborate, and deliver results together with your team. Building trust increases credibility and reliability in the team, which is vital in delivering performance outcomes.
Create Psychological Safety
In her seminal research on psychological safety, Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson discusses that psychological safety in the workplace exists when people in the organization feel safe to speak up and feel confident that their voice is heard. She states that the more employees feel psychologically safe, the more engaged they are. Psychological safety does not imply a lack of conflict. In fact, there will be conflict because people will feel comfortable sharing their varying opinions. However, psychological safety in the context of potential does not imply free reign or slacking off. As a leader, you can model psychological safety by speaking with candor in a thoughtful way, welcoming opposing views, and working together to find solutions.
Cultivate Creativity And Innovation
In 2004, Google put into effect the 20% time rule, which empowered employees, in addition to their regular projects, to take 20% of their time to work on what they thought would be most beneficial for Google. As a result of this initiative, several successful Google products, including AdSense, Google News, and Gmail, were created by employees during their 20%-time efforts. This rule is still in effect at Google. As a leader, you can foster empowerment by encouraging your team to cultivate their creativity by exploring new ideas and learning new skills. Even if the projects fail, the team will have learned some things to apply to their next effort in creating new products and services for customers.
To require accountability from others, you first have to hold yourself accountable. To do so, you must show up and follow up. Showing up means that you complete your work on time, you provide clear direction to the team, and you are there for the team to answer questions and provide support whenever needed. Following up means that you are engaged; you follow up with each team member to learn how they are and if they need any help, and you meet up consistently and continuously with the team to communicate, ask questions, and listen. Once you model accountability, you can require it from your team members as well.
Fostering potential is vital for the team and your organizational performance; it is also complex to implement and must be fostered continuously to be effective. As a leader, you must continue to communicate authentically, build trust, create psychological safety, cultivate creativity and innovation, and above all, model and require accountability so that you can successfully empower your team and give them the tools, data, and resources they need to succeed today, in 2030, and beyond.