How do you build and scale a venture or a movement to touch as many lives as possible without blowing apart your own life along the way?
This is a question I’ve been tinkering with, unsuccessfully, for years. Exploring models, working on strategies, kicking around ideas and tactics. But through it all, one overriding idea keeps bubbling up to the surface. And it’s ridiculously obvious, but at the same time extraordinarily difficult, to achieve.
Why? Because it means removing ego from the picture. Inserting faith. And focusing on service, empowerment and elevating relationships.
It turns out the fastest way to expand your own power, freedom and impact is to relinquish control ~ to trust and empower others.
Simple to say. Obvious in every way. Yet brutally hard to execute. Especially when the organisation is your baby; a manifestation of who you are, how you think and what you want to achieve.
So, my question to you is this …
Who can you trust and empower today to help you turn your dream into a collective movement?
One that accomplishes your end-game, allows others to share in the ownership and the outcome and affords you the space to be with the people and do the things that make you come alive?
And if the answer to my question is, “no idea”, or “I can’t think of anyone”, then chances are it’s YOU that is the problem.
You are the one who doesn’t mentor enough, trust enough or believe in the power of the movement enough to allow anyone else to be trusted with its safe keeping. Somehow you’ve made it the projection of YOUR thought-process and effort, which moves it forward, and not the collective power of the movement you envisaged.
So, what are you going to do about it ~ before you mortgage the house, the wife, the kids and your future?
Let me ask you this. As a leader, do you let your people assume more responsibility when they are able? Do you know intuitively know when that is, or do you keep telling yourself that they aren’t ready yet?
In my travels, consulting, I talk with hundreds of people every year who would work 24/7 for a cause, but they want to be treated as “partners”, rather than as employees. They want information to flow up as well as down. But I find, oftentimes, their leaders do not want to give up that control. Information is power, right?
By the way, could this be you we’re talking about? Hmm, thought so.
Is it worth it?
Let me tell you about a friend of mine. I’ve known this guy for many years. A pretty smart ex. industry CEO who found himself a second career leader of one of the world’s largest global charities. Not long after he joined he received some feedback at his annual review (yes, ‘big dogs’ have them too) ~ he was “too stubborn and opinionated” ~ apparently.
He learned that his snappy, authoritative answers and willingness to take decisions was more disliked than admired, and he needed to “do a better job of letting others make decisions” and to “focus less on being right himself”. Quite an eye opener.
As leaders, we get pretty used to being deferred to, and asked our opinion hourly on just about anything. It goes with the territory, or so we believe. But he learned and practiced this simple technique for one year, and the results were, according to his next annual review ~ “astounding”.
On being asked for his input, before speaking, he would take a deep breath, analyse his thoughts and ask himself, “… is it worth it?” What I am about to say, ” … is it worth it?”
He pretty soon realised that 50% of the time his comments may have been right on the money, and maybe even offer another point of view, but they weren’t worth it. The value his comments added weren’t often worth the price his organisation paid for that employee not having the final say. Of not letting him or her ‘own’ their idea.
So instead of playing the part of the final authority, he quickly began focusing more on empowering others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions, and less on his own need to say his peace and “add value”.
Empowering by listening
Most of your people understand their jobs. They know their tasks, roles and functions within the organisation, and it’s probably time for you to let them do ~ not just what they need to do, but what they want to do ~ to get the job done. But there is a critical factor which is often missed, and it’s this …
It isn’t possible for any leader to “empower” someone to be accountable and make good decisions. People have to empower themselves…
As leader, your role is find those special people, to encourage, support and nurture the decision-making environment, and to give them the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions. Not make their decisions for them. And by doing this you help your people reach a higher level of ability, knowledge and trust than they can ever achieve by themselves.
It isn’t possible for any leader to “empower” someone to be accountable and make good decisions. People have to empower themselves.
The process does take longer than doing it yourself ~ employees will only believe they are empowered when they are left alone to accomplish results over a period of time ~ but it’s effective, worth the effort and the time it takes.
But remember, if your organisation has a history of shutting down or letting go of go-getters and risk-takers, for example, you can’t just tell employees, “You are empowered. Go make decisions.” There’s a lot more to it than that.
Part of building an empowering environment is dependent upon the leader’s ability to work on behalf of the team. The leader needs to make sure people are “safe” doing their jobs and get what they need. To make sure this happens, an ongoing discussion of the needs, opportunities, tasks, obstacles, projects, what is working and what is not working is absolutely critical to the development and maintenance of a “safe” and productive working environment.
As an empowering leader you are likely to spend a lot of time in dialogue with other leaders, employees, team members, and peers. Not making decisions and giving your views ~ empowering by listening.
Handing over the reins
Successful leaders today are willing to exercise their leadership in such a way that their people are empowered to make decisions, share information and try new things. Most employees (future leaders) see the value in finding empowerment and are willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it.
The following are a few things leaders must do to build an environment which empowers their people and one thing I suggest you do right away.
- Give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle the responsibility.
- Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills.
- Don’t second-guess others’ decisions and ideas unless it’s absolutely necessary. This only undermines their confidence and keeps them from sharing future ideas with you.
- Give people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources.
OK, that said, now let me make a suggestion on how you can start this process in very practical way. One that’s so very different from what you and your people normally do, day to day, they’ll be lost and need your support and from each other more than usual. In fact you will all be in very unfamiliar territory.
You’re going to start empowering your team to “go social”. To develop your own social media marketing strategy.
Typically, one or two people will shine. Be sure to pay close attention to these individuals. They may well be your organisation’s online marketing superstars.
Why Social Media Marketing? Because social media marketing is the way the online marketing works these days. And now it’s a two-way conversation, so setting up pretty pages on your website and automatically posting adverts and links doesn’t work any more. Even getting someone to write clever stuff pretending to be you doesn’t work, these days.
You and your whole organisation need to enter the conversation.
But, so that you’re not starting from scratch, and before you try it ~ to let you see many examples of how its done ~ let me introduce you to the most complete listing of Social Media Policy Documents ever compiled on the web, searchable by industry type, and some guidelines on how to create your own, which you can read about here ~ How to Create Social Media Guidelines.
Of course, there are many more things that leaders can do to build an environment which empowers people. Please let me know below any ideas you have. I would love to hear them!
But don’t forget this one. It forms the basis of being successful online.