Do you want dependent employees … or enabled employees? To phrase it another way, do you prefer your team members to wait for your direction and instruction before taking action (any action)? Or, do you get excited when your employees grab hold of the company’s vision, goals, and objectives with both hands and get the job done?
With few exceptions, leaders want enabled employees. Let’s make that stronger: leaders crave enabled employees. They would give their right arm for enabled employees! What leaders sometimes forget, however, is that employees can’t enable themselves: it is the leader’s responsibility to enable employees. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner underline this truth in their classic work, The Leadership Challenge, when they define “Enable Others to Act” as the fourth of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.
Enabling others to act is all about empowerment. As Kouzes and Posner put it, “When you strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence, they are more likely to give it their all and exceed their own expectations.” And again, “When people are trusted and have more information, discretion, and authority, they’re much more likely to use their energies to produce extraordinary results.”
In our experience, leaders frequently err in three areas when it comes to Enabling Others to Act. First, leaders fail to get the right people in the right seats. A person is in the right seat if they “GWC” it. This phrase is taken from the GWC™ tool, which is part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®). GWC™ stands for Get It, Want It, and Capacity:
- Does the person Get It? A person who “gets it” understands the nature of the role, how it fits into the larger organization, and what is required in the seat. If someone doesn’t “get it,” you probably aren’t going to be able to bridge that gap.
- Does the person Want It? Does the person enjoy their job? Are they excited about what they do? If not, don’t think you can convince or cajole them into wanting or liking the position. If they don’t, they don’t and that is that.
- Does the person have the Capacity to do it? Capacity refers to the demonstrated ability to do the job at a high level of execution every day. This does not necessarily mean they have perfect performance from Day One. You might need to provide training or coaching or mentoring, but the potential Capacity needs to be there from the outset.
If you do not have the right people in the right seats, you cannot enable them to act because they either do not understand the role, aren’t excited about the role, or don’t have the ability to consistently execute well in the role.
The second way leaders fail to “Enable Others to Act” is by neglecting to give them what they need to succeed in their role. Kouzes and Posner write, “Remember to provide the necessary resources – for example, materials, money, time, people, and information – for people to perform autonomously. There’s nothing more disempowering than to have lots of responsibility for doing something but nothing to do it with.”
Many times, we have had leaders tell us that they are resource-constrained and therefore cannot provide the necessary help/training/materials/etc. their team is asking for. While that is sometimes a reality, it is too often a cover for a “penny-wise but pound-foolish” attitude. Providing appropriate resources may require stretching the budget or getting creative about solutions, but it always pays big dividends because it enables your team members to do a great job.
The third bugaboo to “Enabling Others to Act” is micromanaging people. Micromanaging always creates dependent employees. As Kouzes and Posner observe, “You want people to take initiative and be self-directed. You want them to think for themselves and not continually ask someone else, ‘What should I do?’ You can’t develop this ability if you tell people what to do and how to do it. People can’t learn to act independently unless they get to exercise some degree of choice.”
The driving forces behind micromanagement are fear and control. A leader fears that their employees “won’t do it right,” and therefore brings down the heavy hand of control on their team. If you struggle with this, then here’s the truth to counteract your internal biases: if you have the right people in the right seats, then by definition they have the capacity to do a great job. If you give them the right resources, they will have what is necessary to do a great job. Now, you simply have to get out of the way and allow them to do a great job.
This is not a matter of tossing the reins willy-nilly to people, obviously. It involves setting crystal clear expectations, ensuring your ongoing support, and establishing regular check-ins to review progress. You remain the leader; you give up being the micromanager.
One of the best leaders we have worked with demonstrated a phenomenal ability to Enable Others to Act. As the CEO of his firm, he surrounded himself with division presidents who were – each and every one of them – the right people in the right seats. He then equipped them with the required resources to run their area of business. Finally, he gave them autonomy in how they managed their divisions. He set well-defined expectations and affirmed his trust in them as leaders. Each month, he met with all of them for a financial and operational review. They were accountable to him, but not micromanaged by him. The company results, quarter on quarter and year on year, were outstanding.
Remember, your employees cannot enable themselves. As a leader, you have to do it. Start by making sure you have the right people in the right seats. Then, get them the right resources. Finish up by providing them with the right oversight. When you do, you will have a team of enabled employees who will deliver beyond your wildest expectations!
Be sure to read the other installments in this series: The Leadership Challenge.
- Taking up the Leadership Challenge.
- Leadership Challenge: Are you Anchored or Adrift?
- Leadership Challenge: Breathe New Life into Your People.
- Leadership Challenge: Be Your Own Disruptor.