How to Empower Your Employees

I had an interesting search term show up in my web metrics the other day. When Google or some other search engine sends somebody to my blog I can see the search terms they entered that landed them at my page. The one that caught my eye was:

“how to get my people to stop coming to me for everything”

It’s Called Co-Dependence

“Stop answering all their questions” would be the simple answer. “But Bernie”, says you, “chaos would ensue. Without me to tell them what to do every minute of the day they wouldn’t know how to scratch their behinds.” And you’d be right. If you’re going to treat them like morons, they’re going to act like morons. It’s your own fault.

They’re helpless because you keep rescuing them. You keep rescuing them because they’re helpless. See how that works? You’re going to have to break the cycle. Yes, they might screw up, and yes, you might have to clean it up. Sometimes. But not every time, and much less often than you might think. Even less often as time goes on. Here’s the thing:

They won’t take they’re responsibilities unless they’re allowed to screw up and bear the consequences. Of course, if you enjoy the thrill of being able to solve everybody else’s problems for them then carry on. Just don’t ever expect to be promoted, appreciated, or recognized. You’re going to be stuck there for a while.

Dealing with Problems is Leadership

If you’re afraid to make a mistake, then you don’t be a leader. If you’re afraid your followers are going to make a mistake, then you really shouldn’t be a leader. It’s going to happen, you’re job is to deal with it. If things always went perfectly, and people were totally honest at all times, then we wouldn’t need leaders (or police).

Think of it as a “learning opportunity”, for both them and you. Set things up so that you know before they go off the rails if possible. But you’ll never be able to do that unless you can get everybody else’s monkeys off your desk and onto theirs where they belong.

Being a leader also means developing your people to the point they don’t need you anymore. What will you do then? How about get promoted! You’ve trained your replacement, which makes you more promotable in several respects: there’s no need to find your replacement – you’ve already done it; you’ve a proven track record developing talent; you’re department / division / team is so self-sufficient that your obvious talents are needed elsewhere. Congratulations!

Use These Words:

“What do you think we should do?”

“Have you thought of . . . ?”

. . . and then go ahead and let them do it. Yes, they might not do it the way you would have. They might even be doing it totally wrong, but unless somebody is going to die or get hurt, then it’s okay. It’s their idea, they’re invested in it, and who knows they might just even be able to pull it off. If they fail, they fail, and you help pick things up. If you have to, think of it as training.

If this kind of interaction with your staff is unusual for you, don’t be panicked if they don’t take to your new style right away. Be patient, be consistent, be confident. They’ll come around once they figure out you’re serious.

I think it was The One Minute Manager or a similar book I read years ago talked about how the author’s CFO had made a multi-million dollar mistake in a merger & acquisition situation. The CFO was distraught, and said “I suppose you’ll need to fire me now.” “Why would I do that?”, he replied, “I just spend three million dollars training you. Don’t do it again.”


What’s the most important thing you learned from a professional mistake or oversight? How valuable was that lesson to learn?

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