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There’s a big difference between managing and leading, and yet the terms aren’t mutually exclusive. While it’s possible to be a manager but not a leader, it’s difficult to be a leader without also being a manager, because management is largely about administration. And administrative tasks never go away, regardless of how high you climb.
In a perfect world, our leaders would paint a beautifully inspiring vision and we would all get to work creating it. In the real world, people get sick, take vacations, and quit. There is miscommunication, conflict, mistakes, and bad days – all of which must be managed, at least in the short term.
Still, there is a difference between managing people and leading them, and the difference lies largely in your ability to inspire and empower. When people are empowered, they are more motivated, energized and creative. They are more likely to be team players and do their jobs well.
Here are 4 ideas for empowering employees and building stronger teams.
1. Insist on good communication by asking more questions.
The quality of any team can largely be measured by how well they communicate. If you want a quality team, insist on good communication, understanding that good communication starts with you. Leaders who foster a culture of healthy communication are approachable, direct, honest, and ask great questions.
As leaders, it’s easy to feel like part of our job is to have the right answers. But, if you always have the answers, your team can start to feel unnecessary. By contrast, asking questions empowers team members to bring their own skills, knowledge and expertise to bear in seeking out the answer.
In a world that is jam packed with opinions packaged as facts, knowing the right question to ask can be transformative and liberating. In a very real sense, questions are often the directions that lead us to the truth. And yet, asking great questions is a skill that few people possess. More often than not, we make assumptions about the actions of others because we don’t know how to probe the thought processes behind the actions. When those assumptions are wrong, it can set off a chain reaction of dysfunctional patterns and missteps, all of which could have been avoided if we’d just gotten to the truth in the first place.
2. Help employees see their purpose within the overall vision.
A compelling vision is the cornerstone of every decision and the direct link between actions and strategic goals. When people feel connected to a clear, purpose-driven vision for why they come to work every day, actions and decisions becomes fueled with the motivation to support that reason. The failure to create a defined vision leads to motivational barriers such as lack of coordination, haphazard planning, and uncertain criteria for success and promotion. And, the failure to help every team member understand how their role fits into achieving that vision leads to apathy and a lack of focus.
One simple way to help team members understand how their work fits into the vision is by going through each of their primary responsibilities in depth and then give a rundown of why their work is important and how it contributes to the whole.
3. Weave autonomy into performance expectations and refuse to micromanage.
Ultimately, all of us are more likely to be engaged in our work when we feel that what we do matters. When team members are expected to help identify engagement barriers and opportunities for positive change, they are more likely to feel empowered to make a difference in their immediate environment.
One way to encourage this kind of autonomy is to let employees see the big picture. Leaders should be responsible for setting the vision and measuring performance; but then they should get out of the way and avoid the temptation to micromanage. High performance teams exist in an environment of individual responsibility and autonomy. Employees that understand how their individual actions fit into the bigger strategy are more likely to be motivated and engaged with their work.
Leaders who empower understand that if they want a high-performance team, it’s up to them to provide structure and support rather than control.
4. Really listen.
Is there anything more frustrating than being in a conversation and not really being listened to? How likely are you to feel empowered at work when you feel unheard, dismissed, and unimportant?
It’s important for leaders to ask how their employees are doing and pay careful attention to the factors affecting their satisfaction and engagement. It might even be a good idea to create a system that will allow you to gather the right kind of feedback on a regular basis. Team members generally know when something is broken and probably have good ideas about how to fix it. By involving your team in decision making, you show you are willing to listen to ideas. And, it demonstrates that you are enthusiastic about empowering your employees to put their best foot forward.
Successful organizations are relentlessly focused on their people. In the Credit Union industry, we understand this better than most. Which leads me to the question… Is high engagement more likely within collaborative, cooperative environments? What do you think?