August 7, 2020

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 it is not

The 3 things Empowering Leadership is NOT

1. Empowering leadership does NOT make you a cheerleader.

2. Empowering Leadership is not program to follow.

3. Empowering Leadership is not simply something YOU do.

The Advantages

The 3 Advantages of Empowering Leadership

1. Empowering leadership increased trust among you employees.

2. Empowering Leadership increases creativity.

3. Empowered employees take more ownership under Empowering Leadership.

The disadvantages

The 2 Disadvantages of Empowering Leadership

1. Psychological empowerment through leadership can increase employee stress.

2. Though organizational behavior will increase, mistakes will be made.


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Empowering Leadership -The Good, The Bad, and Everything In-Between

What is an empowering leadership style, and what is it not?

What are the advantages and disadvantages (1 will surprise you) of empowering leadership?

Is it necessary to empower your team? And if so, why is it so difficult? These are the questions we're about to tackle.

There's a lot of misconception around Empowering Leadership, so before we dive in and explain the advantages and disadvantages, we're gonna define what it's not.

What Empowering Leadesrhip is NOT

  • The leadership behavior behind empowerment does NOT make you the team cheerleader.

    Yes, you are on the sidelines. Yes, you encourage them. And yes, sometimes you'll do things that make onlookers do a double-take. But you're not a cheerleader.

    Empowerment often means holding your employees to high standards, expecting a lot from them, and confronting issues that arise within their performance or attitude.

    These are the leadership behaviors of an empowering leader, not characteristics of a cheerleader.

  • Employee Empowerment is NOT a program.

    L. David Marquet, author of Turn The Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders says,

    "The solution isn't a "program." The solution is to change the fundamental way your organization is designed and managed so that people can exercise the natural power that comes from being a human."

    Empowering Employees isn't a program. It's a fundamental approach to leading.

  • It’s not something YOU do, it’s something your employees do.

    The old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink," rings true here. Employees must be proactive.

    Empowering employees is like an opportunity. You can give someone an amazing opportunity, but it's still their responsibility to take it.

What is Empowering Leadership?

Now that you have an idea of what it isn't, lets explain the principles of Empowered Leadership. 

Sharing Power

This is the ability to make crucial decisions. Many organizations (The Four Seasons, Disney, and Google to name a few) are proactive in this power-sharing model of leadership.

"By empowering our employees and giving them the tools and trust needed to succeed, they in turn carry our values forward, connecting deeply with our guests and creating the memorable experiences that Four Seasons is known for,"

- Ed Evans, Four Seasons Executive Vice President

It's through the psychological empowerment of their employees that the Four Seasons is able to deliver the exceptional customer service they're known for.

Sharing Responsibility

One key component of Empowering Leadership is the ability of the leader to share responsibility.

Though the ultimate responsibility falls on the leader, when the leader shares the power to make decisions with their employees, the leader is also sharing opportunities for the employees to take responsibility for those decisions.

This is incredibly motivating for employees! It creates a sense of ownership, increases job satisfaction, and leads to improved organizational behavior.

Deligation (in depth, not width)

The next principle is Delegation - in depth, not necessarily width.

As you share your responsibilities with your direct reports, they share their responsibilities to their direct reports, and so on.

In this model, each supervisor is training their subordinates to view situations as if the subordinate was the supervisor. This psychological empowerment makes up a difficult but crucial mentality shift.

In Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, this is called "Decentralized Command." 

Advantages of Empowering Leadership

Empowering leadership through empowering employees

1. Increased Trust

According to the Harvard Business Review, Empowered leadership leads to an increase of trust from employees towards leaders. This is because empowerment cannot exist without trust. If you don't believe me, try this experiment.

Think of someone you trust. Now image you're going out to eat with them, but haven't decided on where to go, so you decide to empower them. Imagine giving them, 1. the power to go anywhere they want to eat (you'll front the bill no matter where it is) and, 2. the responsibility of making that decisions (it's their decision to make). How do you feel? You probably feel pretty fine with that.

Now, imagine giving someone you don't trust the same options. How are you feeling? Probably pretty anxious. This is because trust and empowerment go hand-in-hand.

Why Is Trust Important?

A 2015 study performed by Interaction Associates found that High trust companies, "are more than 2½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations" than low-trust companies. 

This means trust increases organizational behavior and team performance, and while streamlining decision making.

A lack of trust usually means your organization requires an increase in management practices. If you want to lean how to build trust among your team, I cover that in chapter 1 of my book Opportunity Switch - which you can buy here.

The Great Place to Work Institute and Fortune partnered together to create a list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and found that, "trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces."

As trust is built, employees become more loyal to the company, but more importantly, more loyal to you.

The reason employees stay with a company isn't because of the logo on the door, but because of the leader they work for, and the trust they have that the leader will help the employee succeed.

When this is done poorly, people site leaving the job because management. When trust is built properly, organizational commitment increases.

empowering leadership leads to employee creativity

2. Increased Creativity

Harvard Business Review did a study on empowering leadership, and found a direct correlation between empowering leadership and employee creativity (rated by their manager or colleagues).

When you understand what Empowering Leadership is, this finding makes complete sense. Empowering Leadership is made up of 1) Sharing Power 2) Sharing Responsibility and 3) Delegation (in depth). Practically, this means that empowering leadership behavior is likely to encourage autonomous thinking, support novel ideas, increase communication - and encourage their direct reports to do the same. Insert a few handfuls of trust, and this is the perfect breeding ground for creativity.

empowering leadership leads to extreme ownership

3. Increased Ownership

Psychological empowerment leads to higher job performance, increased organizational citizenship behavior, and effective leadership at all leaves of the organization.

In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink termed this as "Decentralized Command." If you want to be a leader, you must empower your subordinates to make decisions without you. If your employees come to you every time they have to make a decision, then you're the bottle neck.

An excerpt from Extreme Ownership - which I believe to be the best book on leadership - reads,

"...leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Teams within teams are organized for maximum effectiveness for a particular mission, with leaders who have clearly delineated responsibilities."

Disdvantages of Empowering Leadership

1. Increased Stress

Science Direct pointed out that, "...there is a burdening process in which specific empowering behaviors of the leader increase followers' job induced tension, which in turn diminishes the positive influence of empowering leadership on followers' work role performance."

This increased tension is derived from extra stress, due to the extra power, responsibility, and delegation required of them. This can lead to the 2 types of stress.

Distress, which leads to extreme anxiety, or pain.

This type of stress is unhelpful, and if this is the stress your employees are feeling, you aren't empowering them; you're passing your work off to them.

This would be like throwing someone into a pool without teaching them to swim. It's not gonna end well for either of you.


"…there is a burdening process in which specific empowering behaviors of the leader increase followers’ job induced tension, which in turn diminishes the positive influence of empowering leadership on followers’ work role performance." - Science Direct

The Solution: A Change in Perception

Typical of Harvard Business Review, they were unwilling to accept the premise that empowering employees leads to distress.

After conducting a study into this data, here is what they found:

"Our results again showed that the effects of leading by empowering others are determined by how employees perceive their leader’s behavior. Followers may view greater autonomy or shared decision-making as an indication that the leader trusts them and is providing them with opportunities for self‐development and growth – or they may see those as evidence that the leader can’t lead and is trying to avoid making difficult decisions. In the latter example, employees may become frustrated and uncertain about their role, leading to worse performance on routine tasks. It is therefore vital that when trying to empower their employees, leaders do not add too much pressure or create uncertainty." [emphasis added]

If you want an empowered employee, you must walk the line of delegating responsibility and maintaining accountability.

2. Mistakes Will Be Made

A few years ago I had my first taste of full-empowerment, and I screwed up.

BAD. I worked for a supplements company and was in charge of managing inventory. I placed my first order (1,000 units) and waited for them to arrive.

Once they did, I noticed my mistake...

I hadn't updated the expiration date, so the expiration date on the bottle read two-weeks away...

That was $7,000. WASTED.

Mistakes Will Be Made

Empowering employees involves pushing them out of their comfort zone. This means that no matter how talented, skilled, or well trained an employee is, mistakes will be made.

The Solution:
3 Questions

In the above situation, my managers simply looked at me and asked, "Who's mistake is this (did you take ownership)? How was the mistake made? What did you learn?"

Those 3 questions taught my more about empowerment and true leader behavior then 4 years of university study.

Why Is It So Difficult?

Giving Up Control

Giving up control is difficult for most people, and nearly impossible when you're still responsible for the result. Yet this is what's called for.

It's an Investment

Just like everything great in life, Empowerment takes time. Results aren't quick, or easy. Leading through empowerment is an investment, rather then a quick-fix.

It Involves Risk

If there is any guarantee it's this: psychological empowerment involves risk because mistakes will be made.


Why It's So Necessary

Results are driven by humans, and humans are driven by feelings - the chief of which, is psychological empowerment.

This means that if you want results from your team, you have to take care to lead through empowerment.

Resuts are driven by humans, and humans are driven by feelings - the chief of which, is feeling Empowered.

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