3 Ways to Empower Everyone to Lead (and How to Do It)
Giving employees the opportunity to step up as leaders and make an impact will only benefit your business.
If you ask managers, directors and executives to name the leaders of their company, most would be expected to point to themselves. They are the group who carry the formal, assigned responsibilities of leadership.
However, if you ask those same leaders to name people in the organization with the biggest influence over culture, the most institutional knowledge or the greatest level of trust from fellow employees — qualities associated with leadership — the answers will often not be the same.
Most leaders appreciate the talent they have within the organization, but often miss the opportunity to empower people at every level of the company to flex their own leadership muscles. Encouraging everyone to lead from where they are will benefit the company and the employees in many different ways.
Companies that give employees the opportunity to step up as leaders and make an impact will unlock many benefits. The following are three of the most important.
1. Connect your people to the company and mission
HR leaders have dealt with unprecedented challenges during the past few years as people are quitting their jobs at record levels. Companies are struggling to hold back the tide of employees leaving for new opportunities, particularly in the industries hit hardest by "The Great Resignation."
It's tempting to assume that simply increasing compensation will stem the employee exodus, and raises are certainly a valuable tool for increasing engagement. However, time and again, studies have pointed to a wide variety of beneficial drivers of corporate culture that have nothing to do with wages. These include increasing trust between employees and management, treating all employees with respect and giving people the opportunity to use their skills and abilities at work.
When the management team empowers everyone at the company to lead from where they are, they are building or reinforcing many of these important behaviors. When people embrace the call to leadership, their understanding of workplace culture will shift and they will begin considering how they can be the agents of change.
Employees will always find it much easier to make a difference in their work when they feel connected to the mission and values of the company. Encouraging people to lead from wherever they are in the company invariably helps foster an invaluable investment in organizational goals and outcomes.
2. Create expertise at all levels of your organization
Companies must create workplaces where employees can bring their best selves, and focusing on employee development and growth is one of the most important tools to accomplish this.
Of course, a major obstacle to helping everyone at your company build their careers is that there are never enough management positions to go around.
To solve this challenge, companies need to decouple personal development from promotion. But this is challenging because the longstanding practice in the workplace is to associate growth — and leadership development — with a change of title.
Promoting someone can even be detrimental to their development. Every company should help people stretch and grow, but leaders often promote people away from where they have an outsized impact and solve real problems because we assume their talents will simply carry over. That's not always the case.
That doesn't mean people should be done learning and growing, just that not every employee wants to be a manager. Some may be more comfortable as individual contributors. Taking your best engineer away from their area of expertise so you can have someone run the department might only slow the engineer's personal growth.
When you empower people to lead from where they are, they can have the broadest possible benefit for your company. If your employees' personal growth isn't tied to their title, then you can create and maintain expertise across the organization.
3. Eliminate silos, especially at the top
Earlier in my career, I saw a teachable example of another way enterprises benefit from employees leading from where they are. I was working with a young data expert who had uncovered insights on how our business was performing in our home market and across the world.
Before long, the leaders of the company — several of whom were in our international offices in Australia and Japan — had seen the analysis and were scrambling to schedule time with this junior data analyst. He was leading the organization from where he was by influencing business outcomes and helping leadership pursue strategic initiatives.
When companies empower people to lead from where they are, they are opening the door to talents, abilities and ideas from all across the organization. This open flow of information helps tear down silos across the company, including among executives.
Companies must do a better job of encouraging their people to lead from where they are and apply those vital leadership skills to their work. Creating an open environment that empowers leaders everywhere will make employees feel more connected, keep experts where they can have their biggest impact and prevent departments from disappearing behind silos.
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