If morale problems, foot-dragging on assignments, excessive absences, blame-shifting, high turnover and slow-simmering resentment afflict your office, it is time to examine your leadership style and potentially make some changes, before you tear your hair out.
Your employees are suffering, and in the passive-aggressive manner of protest developed by those without power to directly impact their environment, they are demonstrating their protest in the only ways available to them. Their behavior and the poisonous office atmosphere it can foster are assuredly harming you, as well as them – emotionally, behaviorally, and, most of all, professionally, as your employees’ compliance and productivity wane.
If an authoritarian style of management is ingrained throughout the company culture, you may be fighting a losing battle to change it. And if you find yourself constantly battling the status quo, you may quite simply be with the wrong organization, or in the wrong industry.
Highly legalistic and bureaucratized organizations and institutions that are charged with enforcement of rules and regulations, or are intensively subjected to them (like banks, public rule-making institutions, utilities, government agencies, large law firms, or other top-down management cultures) often operate with intensive supervision or actively micro-manage workers, and tend to promote and evaluate individual employees based on highly subjective factors, or on cronyism, precise adherence to rules and regulations, or the passive ability to satisfactorily perform without “making waves.” This form of restrictive (and some may say, oppressive) organizational structure tends to actively discourage innovation and creativity, and frowns on open ambition and overachievement.
Such organizations suffer free spirits only grudgingly, if at all, generally pushing them to the side, boxing them into dead-end jobs or assigning these individuals to isolated departments or assignments with no real autonomy or influence. Supervisors tend to emphasize and reward total obedience and toeing the institutional line, rather than encouraging an employee’s creative problem solving and innovative contributions to the overall effort.
This is not to say that these types of top-down organizations do not fulfill necessary functions that ensure the smooth operation and relative consistency of our Western societies, but these bureaucracies are certainly not every employee’s or manager’s cup of tea.
It is obvious and elementary to pronounce, “people are different and have different needs.” Clearly, in a world where everyone had the same skill sets and strengths, interests and weaknesses, life would be dull and dysfunctional, with few fresh ideas, and no impetus to become better, faster, stronger, more effective, or more interesting; to sell more, to better meet recognized needs, to strive for greater convenience and efficiency, or to otherwise create and improve upon products, services, or life itself.
Rather than fostering “cookie-cutter” employees, vibrant industries and institutions strive to blend diverse personalities, talents and aptitudes into teams or work units that can approach each day’s challenges with enthusiasm and fresh perspectives, developing new ideas and creating synergy that serves to maximize each individual’s contributions to organizational goals and objectives.
To achieve this ideal state of employee engagement and work productivity, however, requires skilled techniques in employee management, and the ability to inspire, encourage, and motivate. However, every motivational tactic will fail to achieve its full potential, if employees are not first empowered to succeed.
Empowerment is what happens when employees have input and control over their work; when they perform their jobs in an environment that solicits and adopts their best ideas and suggestions, recognizes and rewards their accomplishments, encourages individual employee growth and development, and creates a comfortable atmosphere for communications to flow freely at every level of the enterprise or organization. When a firm’s employees feel that their ideas and suggestions – and they, themselves – are appropriately valued and considered, companies invariably find the workforce more eager to contribute and commit to the organization.
Wow. That was a mouthful!
But, practically speaking, how can employee empowerment be instituted in your division, department or office?
What does it mean to “empower” your subordinates? And where does a manager begin, to change a basically functional office or factory floor into a super-charged, productive and engaging workplace, designed to bring out the best in each employee?
Engaged employees are loyal, conscientious, and dedicated to the goals of their company or institution. They arrive on time, put in a good day’s work, follow instructions and even make suggestions.
Empowered employees are not only engaged, but they are enthusiastic, excited, eager to share ideas and make suggestions to improve productivity, streamline operations, improve teams, create a more effective workplace, grow in knowledge and responsibility, provide better customer service, and act as strong ambassadors for their organization, service or product.
Turning engaged employees into empowered employees does not involve a facile or temporary shift in “business as usual.” It is not a quick fix; nor is its energy only restricted to the occasional office contest, or to a series of “rah-rah” meetings that are intended to drum up a temporary enthusiasm for a specific project or plan of action that emanates from the top down.
Empowering employees involves an attitudinal retooling and restructuring of the manner in which a division, department or office – or company – manages and values its employees.
Such retooling and restructuring need not be painful or disruptive. It is, predominantly, the recognition of the talents, experience and innate abilities and skill sets of the many diverse personalities functioning within an organizational framework; it is an appreciation of employee aptitudes and efforts, and a means of releasing and guiding employee potential based on shared management-employee
- Expertise, and
- Situational Context
Ronald Reagan was often criticized in the media for what was widely considered his “hands-off” approach to management, and he was often accused of being out of touch with the day-to-day operation of his Administration. Nothing could be further from the truth. History now recognizes the merits of Reagan’s management style and, in fact, his approach is now taught in the best business schools as “charismatic leadership,” which is framed as a reciprocal process fully involving those being led or guided, inspiring them to apply their talents and best judgment to the attainment of a specific vision or goal, and giving them the authority to make decisions and control of the means by which to achieve the expected outcome.
Charismatic leadership is a leadership style that is, in some ways, more ephemeral than other more direct and authoritarian styles of supervision and management. The “charisma” being defined by this management theory is an untraditional form of influence, with ideas, thoughts and concepts articulated and relayed to employees with confidence and enthusiasm, in an inspirational and motivational manner that patently assumes the employees’ ability and willingness to meet expectations.
Employees are empowered by leadership’s vision, as articulated by management, and accompanied by recognition and reinforcement of their abilities, dedication, and work ethic.
When applied in a workplace setting, charismatic leadership relies on frequent and effective communications. It depends on a leader’s or manager’s sustained effort to establish and maintain an operating vision apart from “the way things have always been done,” engaging employees with the concept of their active involvement in the process of change and workplace improvement, and with managers holding out well-articulated visions of the company’s or your office or division’s mission and objectives as inspiration.
Complacency leads to stagnation. Permitting employees to become proactive in their work injects new vigor into each day. Finding solutions to work-related challenges, problems or obstacles can then be approached by employees in a decisive manner, whereby their efforts, suggestions and ideas prompt action to improve the processes they utilize daily to achieve their assigned tasks and contribute to the attainment of company goals.
It is up to leaders, then, to articulate their mission in a manner that inspires, as opposed to commanding, independent and group work efforts.
Encouraged by a manager’s recognition of employee skills and talents, and of his or her subordinates’ potential to attain the desired outcomes on their own terms and in their own way, employees enthusiastically become involved in organizing their teams and approaching work tasks in the manner that they, themselves, see as most effective, efficient, and rewarding.
Empowered employees have authorization to make most work decisions independently, without the ongoing need to consult a supervisor. They are permitted “go off script” or bend the rules a bit in doing what they determine is the right thing to meet a customer’s needs, or to achieve a company objective.
Companies with empowered employees uniformly see improvement in customer satisfaction and employee engagement. Empowered employees take ownership and pride in their work, and value their jobs more highly, because they see how their efforts contribute to the whole. When employees feel valued and appreciated, they return those feelings.
Trust is vital to charismatic leadership, and to employee empowerment. Trust is always a two-way street, of course. To build an atmosphere of trust and respect requires that all management-employee communications and expectations are forthright and clearly expressed, understood by both sides, and contain no hidden agendas, unclear provisions or unspoken considerations that could blindside employees or undercut management efforts. Employee empowerment also requires establishment of a system for unbiased consideration and follow-through on all employee ideas or suggestions for improvements.
It is essential for leadership to have faith in their organization’s hiring practices and employee selection, and trust that all company employees are responsible individuals, capable of delivering the expected job performance and of making work-related decisions in a manner that will best facilitate attainment of company goals. Accommodating employee input into the process and creating a work atmosphere where employees feel free to challenge the status quo and offer their own perceptions and ideas is critical for building a strong partnership between a company and its employees. Giving subordinates the liberty of making decisions on their own that may, at times, contradict or ignore established rules and procedures, is both empowering and generally improves job performance and customer service, resulting in greater employee and customer loyalty.
The charismatic leader takes responsibility for his or her actions, and the expectation is, of course, that employees will exhibit similar integrity. Blame-shifting is not an option.
Empowered employees control their own standing with their team, with their manager, and with the company by exhibiting consistent commitment, independent judgment, a strong work ethic, and their own personal integrity.
In empowering employees, a charismatic leader manages the impressions held by employees under their supervision through his or her dedication to self-development and professional growth, as well as his or her personal convictions, such as passion, strength, and resolve, and an ability to approach situations with humor and compassion. Charismatic leaders and managers contribute value to the manager-employee relationship and gain credibility and appeal by impressing their personal and work-related values on employees through their communications and behavior, demonstrating courage and conviction through their actions as well as words.
Charisma, in this definition, is both a personal attribute and a learned skill; and influence is a vital component of all leadership.
The theory of charismatic leadership has a reciprocal quality that is undeniable, in that employee perception factors into this style of leadership and is induced whenever a manager expresses him or herself with confidence and expertise, exhibiting certain behaviors that instill a sense of confidence and respect in employees. Charisma is thus a trait that employees sense, then attribute back to their leader when inspired by that manager’s trustworthiness, values, integrity, and the ability to articulate expectations with deference to employee commitment, effort and abilities.
A charismatic leader brings effective communication, vision, integrity, humor, and compassion into the workplace, utilizing these traits to inspire, to cultivate employees, and to delegate responsibilities with both sensitivity and understanding.
A leader’s expertise, and the methods by which that expertise is evidenced, are therefore closely related to the source and the nature of that individual’s power within the company. When a charismatic leader has a socialized power orientation, where the company is the source of that power and the leader desires to share their power and expertise with and among his or her subordinates through delegation of authority – as opposed to retaining that power exclusively – that charismatic leader is viewed positively by subordinates, and by extension, so is the organization.
The leader’s sharing of his or her expertise and authority places emphasis on the organization and its articulated vision, rather than on the leader, alone. The positive benefit that accrues to the employees is that they each experience empowerment through delegation of authority, the freedom to work to their potential, and their shared vision.
The positive charismatic leader creates a sense of employee empowerment when he or she is personally more committed to the company vision that has been articulated, than to any personal glory or success.
Once fully incorporated into an institution’s culture, this same positive benefit flows throughout the organization, as employees at every level feel empowered and appreciated.
President Reagan managed his Administration with great expertise. His strong personal vision, his convictions and values, and the policies that flowed from them colored the tasks he then entrusted his subordinates to implement, through expert delegation and empowerment. Because he inspired and trusted those who served in his administration, and those others whom he had specifically chosen to fill select posts on the basis of their expertise, experience, professional attributes and acumen, Reagan paid scant attention to the details of his policies’ enactment and felt no need to micro-manage. Reagan created strong teams of highly qualified individuals and, so long as his policies were being dependably carried out, allowed them the freedom and autonomy necessary to excel.
An excellent manager of human potential, Reagan adopted a charismatic leadership style, made wise use of the delegation of responsibility, and empowered his subordinates through his socialized power orientation, granting them authority and permission to operate autonomously, guided by his strong personal values and convictions and a superbly articulated vision for the country. He believed in his employees and in the political appointees who served him, and trusted them to implement his policies as intended. He had neither the need nor the desire to micro-manage their efforts.
Ronald Reagan is the perfect example of a positive charismatic leader and skillful leader, who empowered subordinates without a thought to increasing his own power, but rather, shared it for the benefit of all. Astute delegation of responsibility, and trust in the independent performance of competent and talented subordinates freed Reagan to turn his attention to greater matters and more important concerns during his two terms in office.
Situational realities in business and service-related enterprises can, on occasion, operate to make articulation of an attractive and inspiring vision a near impossibility, and the contextual variables affecting every institution, from time to time, may alter operations and constrain the delegation of tasks. These unusual factors and conditions, which may include widespread emotional strain or crisis elements, can impact employee perceptions of managerial or leadership charisma, and so curtail the ability of a manager or leader to exert an appropriate degree of influence, to share power, or to articulate expectations in a manner that would lead to employee empowerment. Severe economic or political and national crises are examples. Other situations may give rise to the perception of a particular individual’s charisma in a given situation, resulting in a leadership or managerial role, or may cause it to wane once the crisis that called for such leadership has passed.
A good leader remains flexible, adapting to the moment, embracing change and modifying reliance on the powerful combination of task delegation and socialized power sharing to foster or reduce employee autonomy and empowerment, as the situation demands.
More concrete tips for fostering empowerment in your bailiwick include
1) Encouraging open communication by providing a structured means of considering employee ideas, feedback, observations, suggestions, opinions and feelings;
2) Appreciating skills, applauding growth and education, cultivating talent and rewarding self-improvement;
3) Creating opportunities for safe failure in order to encourage dynamic risk-taking and innovation;
4) Sharing expertise and information;
5) Setting boundaries, and clearly defining positions, roles, responsibilities and performance expectations;
6) Requiring accountability for actions, omissions, and independent or group decisions;
7) Supporting and encouraging employee and team autonomy, empowerment, and independent decision-making;
8) Appreciating work efforts and achievements;
9) Cultivating an executive mentality among subordinates – the ability rise above details and to see “the big picture;”
10) Consistently offering employees new challenges and opportunities to grow and experiment, while respecting individual boundaries and limitations;
11) Encouraging flexibility and creative input;
12) Delegating tasks and responsibilities;
13) Sharing vision, goals, direction and authority; and
14) Specifically recognizing and rewarding empowered behavior.
Employee empowerment fails when leaders pay only lip service to sharing power and authority, when they fail to understand its tenets and requirements and refuse to grant their subordinates an appropriate degree of autonomy, when they refuse to relinquish any decision-making power or control over processes and procedures, or when they continue to micro-manage work efforts and second-guess employee decisions.
Empowerment fails as a powerful management technique when it lacks a strategic framework for its implementation within an organization, or when implementation is haphazard and varies from department to department.
Empowerment fails when employees are denied the necessary information or access to information, or to appropriate training, guidance, learning opportunities, feedback, and clear channels of communication.
It fails when leaders will not publicly support employee decisions, or shift blame and shirk their guidance role, abdicating all responsibility and accountability for decision-making, and it fails whenever employees are overworked and underappreciated, or when they feel leaders have abandoned them.
Self-direction is empowering; managerial abandonment is not.
The rewards to an organization for successful employee empowerment are manifold. Employees who feel empowered in their jobs perform more efficiently and effectively. They are more satisfied with their jobs and their company, and more committed and loyal to both.
Employees who are in control of their work methods report less stress and stress-related illness, as well as less on-the-job and personal conflict. They are more engaged and creative, and more likely to advance their education and to develop skills or specific knowledge that will serve them well as their careers progress, making them assets to the organization and more readily promotable, and thus able to move rapidly into positions of greater responsibility.
In short, there is no downside to effective employee empowerment, utilizing the principles of charismatic leadership.