I was thinking about the new Top Gun movie the other day, and the scenes of Maverick’s determination to show his pilots that an ‘impossible’ mission was attainable had me thinking about that concept in leadership. He took a huge risk getting in the trenches to prove to his team that the hard work could be done to pull off something successful. Some may have seen this as irrational and taking too big of a risk, but before he made the choice, everyone else was doubting that they themselves could even accomplish it. My thoughts come to this; are you choosing to take flight and soar in tough times to show your people how successful they can be, or are you expecting them to accomplish things when you aren’t prepared to do the same?
Owning the Environment
As a leader, you have to be open and be a risk-taker. To do that, you have to create a culture of empowerment. Empowered employees are more likely to innovate on behalf of the customer because they feel freer to take risks. Conversely, as a leader, you must create an environment where your people feel free to do what is right and also find out what they are empowered to do. This is not possible without trust.
The definition of empowerment is “to give power or authority to.” When you begin to empower your team, you fall into the practice of giving them control of their behavior in the workplace. You encourage and trust them to make good decisions so that ultimately they can meet both their personal and organizational goals successfully. But just like Maverick, it also requires some inspiration and you have to be the one that takes flight, setting the bar and holding yourself accountable to not only your leadership, but your organization's values. It is awfully hard to take ownership in something over which one has no authority. When your team knows they have control over a situation, they are much more likely to take ownership in its outcome and prove how successful they can be. Which becomes a perfect combination for organizational success because it will increase productivity as well as retention outcomes.
Listen and Be Realistic
Before you can begin to create empowerment opportunities for your team, make sure you know exactly how they feel about their roles and others that may affect them. Mutually beneficial communication will help them, and yourself, feel respected. Hold one on one meetings or collective team meetings and allow each team member to voice their concerns about certain issues. Putting yourself in their shoes can help you understand their goals and limitations. Then follow that up with setting realistic expectations. If you set the bar too high, your people may think they're constantly being set up for failure. Not only is this going to personally affect everyone individually but it's going to plummet workplace morale. When expectations are set too low, your people may feel their work is insufficiently challenging. Striking a balance between achievability and challenge is key to creating an empowered employee.
When you think about Maverick’s leadership, he proved he could beat the odds and showed his fellow pilots what a successful mission really looks like. Not only did he take flight and soared to success, but he empowered them to look within and realize that they too were entirely capable of doing the same. Employee empowerment is all about balance, trust, and perseverance. Understanding your people's personal and professional aspirations alongside their limits makes it easier for both you and them to achieve successful goals.