In my last blog, I discussed the problem with being surrounded by ‘yes’ people. Not only does it impact on your leadership but also the potential of your team and your business. There was lots of feedback about this blog from leaders and employees alike and not surprisingly with differing opinions! The employees were in total agreement; some of the leaders I heard from were quite challenged. And I totally understand that having played both roles. However, for leaders, this is paramount to evolve their leadership and ensuring they are being relevant to who they are leading in our changing times.
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Harry Sanders for the Making It Count Podcast. Harry’s business is StudioHawk, a SEO business that is now going global. Harry has built a successful business because he hasn’t surrounded himself with yes people. He’s surrounded himself with people who challenge him every day and the business is a success because of this. The conversation was timely as I was writing this blog.
It’s important to ensure that if you are going to change your culture that some ground rules are established for this. It’s not an invitation for a verbal free for all; this is about respectfully challenging something that will lead to a better solution. Not an opportunity for people to vent all that they believe is wrong with the company and your leadership!
So as promised, here are four keys to turning a leader-follower environment into one of empowerment:
- You don’t have to have all the answers.
Whilst leaders do need to be decisive, they don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, that’s a great position to be in and the perfect opportunity to engage the collective intelligence you have around you – your team. We know what we know and are encompassed within those boundaries, which can be limiting unless we expose ourselves to being constantly curious and learning from others.
- Be courageous enough to be open to differing opinions
If you are going to set out to create a culture of empowerment and seek feedback, invite people to offer opinions that will inevitably be different to yours and challenge your thinking and decisions then you have to be open to it. There is no point in doing this if you are going to take things personally, punish people for disagreeing with you and change the rules back as quick as you started because it’s all too hard. Some people will deliver the feedback directly; you need to be prepared for some brutality until the ground rules are understood.
- Acknowledge people who are willing to disagree.
This is key to embedding the culture. Acknowledge the team members who are proactively and willing to respectfully provide feedback that will lead to a better solution. If you are in the situation where you have a team member that is constantly disagreeing for the sake of disagreement, a conversation needs to be had with these people to reinforce the ground rules for the empowerment culture. It takes courage, and for some people a lot of it, to disagree and suggest something that is different from their leader. So ensure, even if you don’t agree, that you thank them for their input. This then starts to build the trust that it’s ok and people understand how to provide this feedback.
- Empower your people to do the jobs you recruited them to do.
Businesses spend a lot of money recruiting people that are believed to be a great fit for the business in terms of skills and attitude. Let them do it! It can be really hard for leaders, especially in a period of growth, to let go of the reins and allow others to take some of the control, but if you don’t, your team will get disengaged very quickly. People want to be empowered and trusted to do what they are good at. They want their talents to be valued and relied upon. They certainly don’t want to be micro-managed or told how to do their role. No one likes to be told what to do! Take the time to get to know your team, listen to their strengths and understand how you can get the best out of them.
For some leaders, this will be easy. For others, it will be daunting. But for all, it will be worth it. To be successful as a leader in the 21stcentury and to ensure your relevance, you need to hear the truth, you need to listen, you need to be challenged and you need to adapt. Above all that you need to empower your team to be able to do their roles and this, in turn, this makes your role as a leader so much easier. There are benefits all round if you set it up well.