Do Your People Have the Skills to Handle It?
One of the most challenging aspects of business leadership is finding the right balances between accountability, delegation, and empowerment. I recently had a fascinating conversation with an executive leader who was sharing some frustrations that I believe are very common patterns in many different companies when it comes to leadership and the skills needed to achieve success.
“Everyone is always complaining that they want to be empowered; until they are empowered and they don’t know what to do.”
I explored this provocative and interesting comment with him further…
“I have noticed a common pattern that too many mid- and even senior-level leaders think they aren’t empowered to make decisions, allocate resources, and execute the business plan how they see fit. They always resort to inaccurate excuses like ‘if I make a mistake, I will be yelled out’ or I feel so micro-managed’ so I told them all that they won’t be yelled at and they aren’t being micro-managed. The only thing I ask is that if they make a mistake they learn and move on quickly and not make the mistake again. They have budgets, authority, accountability, and the resources they need to be successful. So, what happens? It’s a lot of tears and whining; believe me, they have the empowerment and they literally don’t know what to do with it. They all very quickly realize that it’s not empowerment they have been missing all of this time; it’s the skills needed to be great leaders and business professionals to achieve success and be accountable for that success.”
As a talent development professional with more than 25 years of experience working with large companies building their skills in Business Acumen, Business Leadership, and Strategic Business Selling, I instantly understood this perspective and the unique lens on why his people didn’t feel the empowerment he thought they had.
Essentially, before a leader can become empowered, that leader must have the skills and tools to accept the empowerment and know what to do with it.
While there are hundreds of macro and micro skills that are needed to accept empowerment, I present two primary competencies that can immediately be developed to prepare leaders for taking on an empowered role:
Drivers of Business Performance
Every business leader needs foundational business acumen skills and the ability to understand who a company makes money, how their own business makes money, and how their customers make money. Understanding the drivers of business performance is the ability to see the big picture and realize how all of the levers of strategy, pricing, marketing, operations, and finance come together in a system that delivers value for customers, shareholders, and employees.
Fundamentals of business leadership
As John C. Maxwell points out in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the first phase of leadership growth is “Don’t Know What I Don’t Know” (p.27).
Maxwell suggests that most employees and especially most leaders don’t understand the value of good leadership; they think that leadership is for a chosen few executives and not for every leader. In fact, every leader is passing up opportunities for growth and business impact if they don’t learn the power of leadership and how to become a strong business leader.
If you believe that leadership is equal to the execution of business strategy through other people, then you must understand and develop the skills that are needed, including understanding styles, coaching, delegating, having hard conversations, and utilizing influence effectively. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t do this because they don’t know what they don’t know.
While I was writing this blog, I shared some of these ideas with the executive who was so frustrated by his people not being prepared to take on the empowerment that wanted. He provided feedback that he thought I was on to something powerful and committed to trying some pilots and focus groups to see if providing these sorts of skills and tools could make a significant impact.
I will report back in a few months…