Leading without Empowerment

After the last few posts, a reader asked about how young leaders can deal with managers that don’t give them the authority necessary to do their job.  We have all seen the supervisor that micromanages a new manager.  The justification might be a desire to ensure success, lack of trust, or even fear of inexperience, but the result is the same: responsibility without authority.  In other words, the new manager will be expected to meet expectations and produce results, but will be significantly constrained in ability to make decisions, allocate resources, or deal with internal issues.

The typical method of maintaining control involves vetting all decisions before they are made.  Each time a young leader needs to make a major decision, he or she has to approach the higher level supervisor and gain the approval necessary to act.  In a short period of time, the new leader begins to feel that he or she is only a messenger or extension of the higher level supervisor and not part of the leadership team.

By preventing a young leader from assuming authority, a number of negative outcomes result:

  • failure to develop confidence in own abilities to lead;
  • lack of credibility with staff;
  • increase in conflict due to staff’s impression they can circumvent the leader and go above his or her head;
  • more communication issues due to lack of consistency in messaging;
  • heightened uncertainty due to poor delineation of duties between direct and senior managers;
  • reduction in interest in leadership due to increased duties and lack of empowerment; and
  • decrease in productivity due to workplace stress.

It is frustrating for the leader as well as the employees when there is a lack of workplace authority.  Although some employees might like the idea of playing the two sides against each other, uncertainty in the workplace in role, responsibility, performance expectations, and future direction destroys engagement, teamwork, and satisfaction.

What should we do to properly empower our young leaders?  First we can empower them and then we can:

Support – Young leaders need our support.  The transition into a new position has its share of challenges in the best of circumstances.  By not empowering new leaders, we are failing to support them.  Young leaders should be encouraged to develop their own ideas and methods for improving performance, enhancing team engagement, and reaching desired outcomes.  By giving them the tools necessary to validate their ideas and act on them, we not only improve current performance, but help in the development of even stronger leaders in the future.

Trust – Although a young leader may not have a lot of experience, we have to trust their efforts.  Without organizational trust, most young leaders will fail to reach their full potential, gain the confidence necessary to lead successfully, and will leave.  Trust provides the foundation of confidence that ensures a young leader that he or she can take risks, overcome obstacles, and be successful.

Forgive – We all make mistakes.  As leaders, the error rate is very high due to the volume of decisions, imperfect information, weak causality, and complexity.  Some have estimated that 80 percent of decisions made by the average leader are less than optimal.  Regardless of the typical success rate, we have to be prepared to forgive young leaders for their mistakes and reassure them to continue their efforts.

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