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The Human Side Of Leadership: The power of empowering others

This happened when I was quite newly associated with a multinational corporate training organization; they got a chance to do a massive project in India. It was their first CSR project where they had to design and facilitate a workshop for community leaders across a few states. My mentor in the organization was heading the project. Since I was based in India and had worked in the development sector for a number of years, she asked me to take lead on this. She came for one meeting and then she let me handle the whole thing by myself. She would call me perhaps once in a fortnight to ask if I needed support and I kept her updated on the progress of the project. After completing the project, she sent an email to the entire organization praising me for the work and the effort.

I wasn't an employee of the organization, I was an associate. This was their entry in the development sector in India, and a massive one at that. They had seen me facilitate probably a couple of times, and never design my own workshop. And yet, she trusted me enough to let me take this on. How did I feel? I felt trusted, connected, and had a true sense of responsibility about the project. I did my best because I knew that they were counting on me. She invested in building my capacity; and they reaped the fruits of that.

A true leader invests in building capacity of others. Forbes contributor Joseph Folkman shares that "One of the best ways to increase employee engagement and retention is to improve an individual's satisfaction with development opportunities in an organization". When an employee feels that they have opportunities to grow, to build capacity in an organization, they want to stick with the organization. This is true for all levels of employees. Many organizations do take efforts to help employees grow, offering financial support, opportunities of training etc. But is it enough?

Many leaders believe that developing employees is the work of the human resources, talent management, organizational development teams. They don't see it as a part of their own job description. Sometimes, some leaders do take time to mentor others, but only those who come seeking for support. Or those who are the "most talented" (read: their favorite). Leaders feel that if they delegate tasks, then they are building capacity. But there isn't any conversation on what is being delegated and how is can be used as an opportunity for the person to grow. Yet others feel the need to micro-manage in the name of supporting the staff.

The biggest challenge to developing others is the inability to share power. Marshall Goldsmith shares in Harvard Business Review "Studies indicate that most leaders have a higher need for power-though they may not realize it. And power is very hard to let go". True empowerment of others means letting others become experts, even if it means they will surpass your abilities. Many leaders feel that by doing so, they will have to share their power and thus loose it. Another hindrance to empowering others is the ego. You would often see that leaders only delegate small tasks or less important tasks to others. Most leaders want to be in the limelight themselves, show case their abilities, rather than give space to others. Leaders hesitate to share credibility with others or often share it with a specific few.

Another reason why leaders find it difficult to empower others is because they themselves lack the skills of being able to understand the needs of the team, to listen to others, and to coach/mentor others. If the leader doesn't know the members well, then s/he wouldn't know how to support his team. Different team members need different kinds of support. Glenn Llopis a Forbes contributor shares that an effective leader is able to bring out the best potential of each employee by building on their strengths. To be able to do that, the leader should be able to understand the strengths of the team and the best way to utilize them

So how can leaders develop others? Here are some simple things that leaders can do. They may sound simple, but you might need some practice before you can successfully implement them.

The fist one is the most simple. Ask and support. Take out sometime in your schedule, or build in time in your employee engagement time to talk to your team and ask about their ambitions, their dreams and what areas they wish to develop. At first you may get vague answers, but if the employees see that you are ready to support them, then they will not hesitate to ask you. The important thing is to create the opportunities and give them as much as possible. It doesn't always have to be b

ig tasks. If a team members wishes to learn how to deal with stakeholders, perhaps you can ask them to sit in one of your meetings as an observer. But remember to do this with all your team members and not those selected few. When you ask employees what they need and you give them support for what they asked, employees know you care.

Let them make mistakes. I know it sounds strange but most often than not, leaders hesitate to delegate or give new opportunities to employees for the fear of failure. They think it may reflect poorly on their performance if an employee makes mistakes and so they either don't delegate new or important tasks or they micro-manage. Let employees make mistakes. I had a friend who often said "It's not a mistake, it's a learning". Make sure the employees feel supported when giving them new tasks and if they make mistakes, that's fine too. Treat it as a learning and explain where they could have done better. In this too you may want to start small but it sends the message that you trust your team and are there for the team. Another secret, try this with your kids too. They would love you even more, if you allow them to make mistakes.

Another important skill that a leader needs is to understand the pulse of the team. Know what kind of support do team members need; some may need more managing than others, some may be detail oriented others may be big picture oriented. Know what motivates them to do better, how to play to their strengths and work on their lesser abilities. This will help you give them support without micro-managing or leaving them out in the open, will help you delegate effectively and help each member grow. This can only be done by putting your heart into it.

Lastly but most importantly Let go. Learn to let go of your power, of your ego, of your need for always being in the limelight. Be brutally honest with yourself and ask yourself what you are scared of the most. Then work on it. My experience tells me that the leaders who find it easy to share limelight, who let others take credit for the work, who lead from behind are the most successful ones. It is difficult, and one needs to be Self aware to be able to do that. But when letting go becomes easy, the rest of the things follow naturally

When you create followers, your success and fame is short-lived. When you create more leaders, your success and fame is eternal. Short-lived success is easy, eternal fame is hard. THE CHOICE IS YOURS!


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