The power of empowering leadership

8 Feb, 2022Renske Start
Juliette Plantenga, Strategic Account Manager at Lepaya is co-author of this article

Leadership has many facets

Being able to make sure a team of diverse people or even an entire organization runs smoothly asks for a strong combination of skills. In this blog we take a closer look at leadership and how to empower leadership. What it takes to be a good leader, or what it means to be a ‘bad’ one.

Leadership altogether is a broad term, so we are specifically talking about leadership values, how to adapt a leadership style to the needs of the organization and its employees, as well as how to coach and support employees. In short: how do you make sure you have the leaders that empower your organization?

Become the leader people won’t leave

“People don’t leave companies, they leave leaders.” We’ve all heard this before, and according to market statistics we’ve almost all practiced it as well. In 2020, 75% of employees noted that their number one reason for leaving a company was their manager. (1)

Managing well in a leading role is no easy feat, not even for the most seasoned managers. Research supports this, by showing that 35% of Dutch managers find their role within the organization to be the most difficult. While an additional 23% think their role will only become more difficult in the next few years. (2)

Leadership is a challenge, to say the least. Talking about ‘bad’ managers and ‘bad’ leadership therefore does not seem to cut it. Because there is so much more that taking the lead encompasses.

Take for example the Facebook Engagement survey. In this case employees didn’t leave one on one because they disliked their manager.But they left because they did not think their role was enjoyable enough.

“At Facebook, people don’t quit a boss — they quit a job. And who’s responsible for what that job is like? Managers. Managers can play a major role in designing motivating, meaningful jobs.”

In Facebook’s instance it was because the role did not meet expectations. Other common reasons for leaving are lack of growth opportunity or onboarding. But important is that they do all have one thing in common: leadership. Leadership is crucial to any organization and touches every aspect of the business. (3, 4)

Qualities of a great leader: what is empowered leadership?

We often use the term ‘empowering leadership’ to describe a Power Skill that includes the challenges and responsibilities of leadership.

So what are we talking about when we talk about empowered leadership? What traits and skills does a manager, CEO or team lead need in order to take on their role? Google started an extensive internal research project named ‘Project Oxygen’ in order to find these answers. They examined which traits and qualities make up a great leader.

What they discovered is that leaders focus on three things:

  • They are good coaches, who avoid micromanaging and empower their teams
  • Who are strong supporters of career development
  • Frequently discuss the performance of their people

Coaching, supporting and communicating in order to empower teams so that they can grow and perform well. That is according to the research by Google what a leader ought to do. Leaders share power with their employees, give them decision-making authority in their own growth and express confidence in their abilities to perform their jobs autonomously.

Simon Sinek links to this by describing this new type of leader as follows:

“A star wants to see himself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around him rise to the top.”

Sinek seems to note that leadership of the future means not just leading their employees, but empowering them in becoming the best versions of their professional selves.

This perspective on leadership is one to bring to the forefront, because when your organization’s leaders of the future are people who don’t just lead their followers, but empower them in becoming the best versions of their professional selves, they will be able to contribute the most to the business.

Why is the Power Skill of empowering leadership so important, and why now?

One of the challenging factors that both directly and indirectly affects all types of organizations (covering those in politics, economics, society and culture) is change.

Nowadays many organizations change to flatter organizational structures as they enable fitter, faster and a more flexible work-flow.

The hierarchical top-down approach is no longer sustainable and a leader can no longer know it all. It’s all about forward thinking, improvements, growth and advancements. The organizational change asks for change management, as it upholds a different business structure, and for people leading this change. To manage organisational change is the most important aspect of leading a company. Therefore, along with the organizational change, a shift in leadership is required too.

Leadership shift: The new role of leadership in future-proof organisations

With the hierarchical top down structure no longer being sustainable, we see that these changes to the organization have a strong effect on leadership, and we can see several shifts occurring.

The Institute for Management Development notes there is a:

  • Identity shift: from answers to questions.
    The leader can not and may not know it all anymore, her or his role shifts from knowing all the answers to asking a lot of questions.
  • Mindset shift: from power to empower
    The leader being the one with power changes to someone who empowers others.
  • Paradigm shift: from IQ to EQ
    The leader having a strong IQ changes to a strong EQ. (5)

Traditionally the focus of managers and leads was always on maximizing value for stakeholders. In order to do this they played the role of planner – developing strategy and translating this into a plan – while assigning responsibilities and controlling that everyone does what they should to minimize variance against the plan.

But taking into account that there is a shift from answers to questions, from power to empower and from IQ to EQ we note that today’s complex business environment calls for a new approach to leadership. An approach that must focus on:

  • co-creating meaningful value with and for all stakeholders,
  • expanding beyond shareholders to include customers, employees, partners and our broader society.

Empowered leaders share power with their employees, give them decision making authority and express confidence in their employees’ abilities to perform their jobs. Those leaders empower their teams in becoming the best version of themselves, both professionally and personally. This makes sense for employees. In an open system, everyone must win. Otherwise, they’ll simply go elsewhere.

Leadership roles

McKinsey sees that this new approach to leadership leans on four new roles: visionary, architect, coach and catalyst.
A visionary listens and observes to their people, while they offer ideas and integrate different perspectives with their own. They translate their vision into measurable outcomes that empowered teams can work towards.

“As visionaries, leaders shape the emergence of a clear, compelling purpose and vision – a North Star – that resonates throughout the organization and beyond.” (6)

Leaders are also architects that favor a deeper understanding of the system at the core of their organization, while they create space to re-image the production or sales opportunities. They allow new forms of business and models to take shape.

“Leaders take on the more sophisticated role of designing the organization as an open and empowered system, able to continually plan, execute, and adjust flow of resources across shorter working cycles in pursuit of its North Star.”(7)

A leader who coaches encourages learning initiatives, and a culture of learning throughout the organization. So that people feel comfortable experimenting and evaluating. They ask questions, instead of straight away offering solutions, and seek different perspectives to create a more appropriate solution.

“As people are empowered to achieve organizational goals, capability building—of mindsets, knowledge and skills—becomes a critically-important area that leaders need to address.” (8)

Leaders as catalysts, make things happen.

“They do this in four primary ways: remove roadblocks that prevent empowered teams from bringing ideas to reality; foster connections across the organization; help people connect what they’re working on to the organization’s vision and aspiration; and finally, encourage an inclusive and welcoming environment of wholeness, where people can bring their authentic selves to the office.”(9)

These four roles are talking about a combination of skills different from the traditional role of the ‘leader’. These four roles combined show Empowering Leadership. Leaders who, along with their team, are focussing on vision, architecture, coaching and being a catalyst in order to unleash the full potential of the people so they can deliver impact and value.

Read more on which skills a leader can use in order to become an empowered leader:

Power Skill

The business impact of empowerment in organizations

With 41% of the global workforce leaving their jobs, during this ‘Great Reshuffle’, leaders will prove a make-or-break point for whether talent decided to stay or go. (10) A higher turnover rate than healthy, alongside the fight for talent and the importance of keeping talent on board can all boil down to a shift in leadership. (11, 12)

There is a correlation between empowered employees, as a result of healthy leadership, and positive business results. Because the moment you hand your employees the right tools, they will engage and can start innovating, problem-solving, storytelling with impact and lots more. Great leadership will reflect on innovation and growth.

“The Empowerment Cycle is based on the assumption that you cannot force people to show initiative, but you can create the conditions that make them want to take actions themselves.”(13)

Empower Leadership

MT sprout (14)

The next step

So what is happening within your organization? Are your leaders up for the challenge? Check out these next steps and see what you can do to boost your leaders, and give them the tools they need to empower themselves and others:

    1. In order to discover your possibilities as L&D Manager or HR Manager to empower yourself and your leader it’s crucial to inform your organization on the importance of ”Empowering Leadership” and its impact on high performing businesses. Motivate and inspire your CEO’s, leads and managers, they are the basis for great business results.
    2. After you’ve convinced your leaders to get on board, you can show the effect with data of traditional leadership against the effects of empowered leadership. Talent retention, employer happiness and business growth can and will all increase.
    3. What does your current leadership model look like? Assess your leadership model and compare it to a model that encourages empowered leadership.

For example check out this positive leadership model:

Empower Leadership

“You can manage things, but people deserve to be guided. Too often people are over managed and under guided.”

  1. Trust: This is built on integrity, honesty and dependability. People must feel secure and safe around you if you are going to lead them. They need to trust you as a person and a leader.
  2. Relationships: Without trust and connection you will not have a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships allow for two way communication, feedback, transparency and support.
  3. Communication: Is a leader’s most important tool; It begins with good listening skills, people feel heard and acknowledged. You are clear and direct without blaming or making others wrong.
  4. Attitude: Your positive attitude and mindset supports and inspires others. You keep people engaged and committed to being their best and doing their best.
  5. Performance: Everyone has the ability to be excellent at their jobs if they have the right skills and support of good systems and leadership. Good leadership inspires confidence, breeds competence and creates excellence in performance.
  6. Culture: Is the energy, attitude and mindset of the people who lead and work within a business. All the Leadership practices create a positive, inspiring and engaged culture that people want to be a part of. (15 + source unknown)

Last but very not least: give your leaders the tools to consciously train their leadership skills. Offer them a focus on coaching techniques, deep listening, and driving a feedback culture.

The Power Skill Empowering Leadership supports your leaders in this journey and takes the needs of their own people into account as well. This Power Skill is therefore built around the following topics; deep listening, coaching, difficult conversations, driving a feedback culture, leadership values & ambitions and empowering your team:

  • Deep listening by recognizing filters and applying empathy in their daily communication;
  • Applying effective coaching techniques in their conversations to develop others;
  • Effectively conveying a difficult message and handling the emotions which can arise;
  • Cultivating a feedback culture that supports optimal performance;
  • Discovering their values that guide their leadership and put them to action;
  • Building a happy and effective team by empowering their team members and promoting psychological safety.

By actively focussing on Empowering Leadership within your company, you begin by making your people feel valued which will positively affect work engagement, their innovative behavior, productivity and efficiency. Resulting in a business model, based around leadership, that fosters growth and strives towards high impact for your organization.

Co-author of this article Juliette Plantenga works as a Strategic Account Manager at Lepaya. With a background in sports, managing several high performing teams, lifelong interest and curiosity in leadership development makes her truly believe in the positive impact of empowering leadership skills. The effect it has on people’s full potential and in the end on the business results can be tremendous. This is why she is passionate about this topic and hosted our webinar on Empowering Leadership.

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