Encourage Employees to Take Risks"Be careful." "Don't make any mistakes." "Errors can be costly." "Your job is on the line." This is what employees hear in their own minds and from their bosses. The result is that people become gun-shy and don't take a chance for fear of reprisals. In the current economy with employees being terminated, furloughed or laid off, it's no wonder that they are reluctant to take risks.
But an effective leader needs to encourage appropriate amounts of risk-taking because it leads to growth, change, improvement and innovation. Without it, organizations remain stagnant and therefore behind the competition. But how do you stimulate risk-taking without encouraging catastrophes? The answer lies in taking "appropriate" amounts of risk. First, you as leader need to model to your employees that you believe in taking a risk--a middle-range risk. If you are successful, you are encouraging others to do the same. If you fail, admit it: Analyze what went wrong and what you will do next time to ensure errors are not repeated.
This is what you as a responsible risk-taking leader need to do. Then encourage employees to look at possibilities--things that do not yet exist but could with a little effort and forethought. Nothing new will come about without people stepping out of their comfort zone.
To ensure that employees do not take on enormous risks inappropriately, encourage them to brainstorm with colleagues or bosses to get a second opinion, though not necessarily permission. The key here is encouragement. Or support them in trying something new in small amounts or with a few teams before launching their new venture on the entire department or company.
Provide the Correct Amount of DirectionA key source of motivation for leaders is the opportunity to respond to questions from their employees and provide assistance and guidance. The providers feel a sense of importance, a sense of being able to help others, and a pride that they knew the answer or the "right way" to do something.
But how much direction is really needed or wanted? Often, the easiest way to resolve an issue is to ask for help. Then, the leader can step in, offer the "best answer" and let the employee implement the solution. But has the leader really helped that person? Probably not. What the leader has accomplished is to encourage dependency.
Instead of resolving issues, leaders need to challenge employees to figure out the situation on their own. That is not to say that the leader ignores employees. Rather, the leader asks the individual to try to devise a few solutions and then come back to discuss them. In that way, the employee learns self-reliance yet still benefits from the knowledge and experience of the leader.
It's also important to think about how much feedback is necessary. Some individuals simply need a few guidelines; others need more detailed responses. Giving too little input to someone who needs a lot leads to frustration and inactivity; giving too much to the individual who needs little results in an employee who feels overwhelmed and underappreciated or undervalued.
So size up the issue, size up the individual, and make sure your guidance and direction fit the situation.