You’ve got the message loud and clear: “If you empower your team you will get much higher levels of performance, productivity and employee engagement.” So why is it that, so far, all your efforts to empower your team have backfired or had no effect whatsoever?

Is this empowerment business all hype or are you getting empowerment wrong?

If you’re not seeing a change in your team, it might be worth asking yourself:

a) Do you really know what empowerment is?
b) Could your leadership style be getting in the way?
c) Have you got the skills and behaviours you need to really empower people?

Do you really know what empowerment is?

In your eagerness to empower your team, did you divide up your work and allocate key tasks to other people? If yes, this might explain why you’ve hit a brick wall because delegation is not the same as empowerment. You may have shared out the responsibility for getting the job done but that won’t necessarily result in your team feeling empowered. In fact, in some instances, delegation without the appropriate support can be a burden on people and the cause of great resentment.

If you want to empower your team, not only do you need to delegate the authority to act, but you must also equip people with the tools and resources to act independently, and, with the opportunity to learn, develop, grow and make a greater contribution than your own imagination allows.

This subtle difference makes a big impact on whether you will be able to successfully empower your team and relies on you being able to incorporate a non-directive approach into your leadership style.

Is your leadership style getting in the way?

If you’ve already tried to adopt more of a non-directive approach, and you’ve been disappointed with the results, it might be because you haven’t moved far enough along the spectrum of support.Fig 1.

Spectrum of Support

This spectrum of support shows us that when you’re more directive (operating on the left-hand side), all of the effort it takes to continually tell and direct the work of others falls to you, the manager. As you move from left to right, where more of a coaching approach is used, the effort is increasingly shared.

The more time you spend on the right-hand side of the spectrum, using coaching related behaviours, the more likely it is that your team will build the confidence and competence to shoulder more accountability themselves, and in doing so, leverage their full potential.

Have you got the skills you need?

Ironically, too many management development programmes are fantastic at telling you what to do but not so good at showing you how to do it. So, it’s not surprising that your initial efforts to empower people aren’t having the desired effect.

To mobilise what you have learnt about empowerment in your management development programmes, you really need to learn how to become an effective Operational Coach. When you adopt an Operational Coaching™ leadership style you put enquiry at the heart of the dialogue you have with your team. Rather than spending your time telling people what to do, you invest time asking powerful questions that help people think through issues for themselves and become more engaged in the solutions.

What’s different about Operational Coaching™ is that you can use it ‘in the moment’ and ‘on the job’ thereby giving you the ability to improve the quality of conversations you are having in everyday operational settings where people have the power to influence the course of events.

When you get empowerment right you will start to see the dramatic increases in performance, productivity and employee engagement that it promises.