Are You Empowering or Inhibiting Your Employees?

May 19, 2010

Here at OpenView Venture Partners, you’ve probably learned by now that we really focus on providing value-add management consulting services to our portfolio companies.

One area where we spend a lot of time coaching our companies is in the development of management skills.  Many times, the founding management teams that have excelled at taking their company from startup to the expansion stage find themselves in new and uncharted territory when it comes time to expand the team around them.

An area that is particularly tricky for experienced leaders and new leaders alike is how to effectively empower employees.  While the idea of empowerment is one that expansion stage CEOs and managers readily espouse, the actual implementation can be a bit uncomfortable for the CEO or leader. Successfully empowering employees does mean giving up some measure of control as the company grows and as the startup team expands to include new members with more varied functional expertise.

I ran across a great blog post by Marshall Goldsmith recently, “Empowering Your Employees to Empower Themselves”, which gives some really helpful ideas.

  1. Give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle the responsibility.
  2. Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills.
  3. Don’t second-guess others’ decisions and ideas unless it’s absolutely necessary. This only undermines their confidence and keeps them from sharing future ideas with you.
  4. Give people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources

Goldsmith cites the example of one CEO who “received feedback that he was too stubborn and opinionated. He learned that he needed to do a better job of letting others to make decisions and to focus less on being right himself.”

This CEO “practiced this simple technique for one year: before speaking, he would take a breath and ask himself, “Is it worth it?” He learned that 50% of the time his comments may have been right on, but they weren’t worth it. He quickly began focusing more on empowering others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions, and less on his own need to add value.”

The particular CEO in question was the leader of one of the largest organizations in the world, however I think that this tendency can be just as common amongst leaders of large organizations, small organizations, cross-functional teams and even smaller workgroups or departments. These leaders don’t realize that by stepping back (truly stepping back), they will give their employees an opportunity to build the skills they need to truly empower themselves.

I think this simple tip for any leader or manager of taking a breath and asking whether stepping in to comment on, or take over the decision process is really worth it can be a great first step to truly letting go and empowering your team.