Unleashing Talent – How to Empower Employees

Posted on August 19, 2015 by

Unleashing Talent 

Empowering Individuals

Have you ever watched a leashed animal? Let’s use the ordinary example of someone taking a dog for a walk on a leash. The dog walks along at the pace the owner sets. The dog can go only so far before being tugged back by the leash. Then what happens when the owner finally takes off the leash? The dog comes to life—it explodes into action. It runs, jumps, rolls, sniffs, explores. Suddenly you are aware of the dog’s full potential. You see its inherent strengths and abilities. People obviously are not mere animals, but the principle of the leash is the same. When you “leash” people with thick policy and procedure manuals, heavy-handed consequences for mistakes, and micromanagement, you will never see their full potential or ability. Captain D. Michael Abrashoff said, “If all you do is give orders, then all you’ll get are order-takers. We need real decision-makers—people who don’t just sleepwalk through the manual. That means we have to allow space for learning.” Unleashing talent is about empowerment. It’s about channeling the collective hopes, aspirations, and beliefs of people into vibrant action to achieve their vision.

There is a big difference between delegation of authority and empowerment. Delegating authority is just lending power with blurry accountability lines. You don’t get much innovation or creativity with delegation; instead, you get compliance and caution. Empowerment is about giving people authority, power, and accountability. Through self-control, self-management, and self-organizing, people use their natural talents and abilities in creative and innovative ways to accomplish specific goals. This means the decision-making authority and power must be held by those at the frontline, not just supervisors, but those who are the direct service-providers.

As Stephen R Covey states “unleashing talent is not easy. An empowering leader must have ice in their veins. Leaders must be able to withstand complaints and criticism by others who may not have their same vision. They must be willing to allow for learning and mistakes. People have to have the freedom to create, innovate, fail, and then try again”. Often leaders empower for a little while. Then something happens. Someone makes a big mistake that embarrasses the leader and the organization. So what is the typical response? Leaders yank empowerment out from under people and go back to delegation and micromanagement, or worse, the leader tries to do it all. Unleashing talent has inherent risks, but the payoffs are exponentially better.

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