Well, if you’re reading this journal, there is a good chance you suspect you may be disempowering your team or you know of someone else who is. And if you suspect that you are disempowering your team, then you most likely are doing so.
Hey, I’m not judging you – we’ve all been there, including yours truly!
WHY DO WE DO IT?
Typically, we disempower people when we are under stress (yes, guilty as charged) but some of us do this more often than not – and that’s worrying. In an ideal world, it just wouldn’t happen because in such a world we would be looking to replace ourselves for when we leave our role. That entails creating leaders and looking out for emerging leaders.
WHAT DOES DISEMPOWERMENT LOOK LIKE?
You delegate a task and an underling executes it, but not terribly well. The question is – how do you handle this situation? Especially if that person should be able to handle the task? Of course, it depends if the individual is consistently under-performing, or if this is a one off, or if this person used to perform well, and is only failing recently.
Let’s take the first scenario – consistent underperformance:
Is this person truly qualified for the role?
Is the task within their remit / job description (JD)?
Have they had the training required to perform this duty?
How were they interviewed / brought on board for the role?
Is there someone else in the team that has the know-how to perform the task successfully while the underperforming worker would benefit by undertaking a different role?
Would it be a good idea to examine the persons skill-sets to see if they have been set up to fail?
These questions are important because, ultimately, you are responsible and accountable for those who report to you. Pointing the finger won’t get you very far.
Let’s look at the second scenario –a one-off under-performance:
This is the easiest scenario because it probably points to a lack of training, or a misunderstanding, or the person isn’t at their best. Basically, it could be any of a number of factors.
How should you handle it? If you berate or humiliate them in front of their colleagues, they will become disengaged very quickly. If you make them feel bad about under-performing rather than discovering the underlying issue, you will not only be disempowering, you will be demotivating and indeed, in the words of the Harry Potter books, de-mentoring.
Now we come to the third scenario – used to perform well, but recently failing:
Your behaviour in all three scenarios will tell you much about your leadership style, and about your ability to empower and disempower.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
In all three scenarios, you need to talk to the person having difficulties, on a one-to-one basis, away from prying eyes and attentive ears, and in ‘safe’ environment. [A safe environment means – create a space where the person you are interviewing can feel free to express themselves without recrimination.]
The worst thing you can do is step in and do the task, unless it’s mission critical or deadline sensitive. Let’s face it – sometimes things need to get done and we do not have the bandwidth to train at that point in time. But those instances aside, I am discussing a pattern that you may identify with and, if so, helping you to see and, hopefully, break that pattern.
HOW DO YOU LOOK?
Do you step in and do it yourself, because you’ll do it right, because your team member(s) haven’t got a clue?
Do you make a big song and dance about it?
Think about it! If you keep stepping in to save the day, you look great, right? (You just saved the day!).
If you look great, how does your subordinate look?
How does your subordinate feel?
What is that doing to his/her confidence levels?
What are you trying to prove?
Why are you trying to prove anything and to whom?
You’re the boss – you most likely do know how to accomplish the task – but we create teams to achieve visions that are bigger than any individual is likely to realise.
The sum of the parts is bigger than the whole, or as the Germans coined it – teams create a ‘gestalt’.
I am highlighting this topic because it is dear to my heart. I recently encountered somebody who served in a highly specialised military unit – one that only the best of the best are invited to join having first passed vigorous intelligence tests. After their army service, many who served in this elite unit set up successful, cutting-edge technology start-ups.
This particular individual led a team and, on more than one occasion, stepped in to redo a task without involving the team, demonstrating to the boss how the task should be done.
This had two consequences: The first consequence expressed how clever they are while the second showed the boss was culpable for hiring incapable team members.
This resulted in demotivating the whole team and making the boss feel threatened. The fallout? The individual is moving on to another job. I have no doubt that instead of repeatedly demonstrating intelligence to the world, the team would have been better served by sharing that intelligence and experience. This way team members would be trained, nurtured and mentored. The team would build confidence and successful task performance would become second nature.
To state the obvious, growing your team’s know-how and confidence, on an individual and team-level, will serve you, your bosses, and your organisation far better than disruptive behaviour and demonstrating whatever the chip on your shoulder is pushing you to prove.
Imagine how powerful you would be if you constantly looked at ways to ‘grow’ people, to bring out the best in individuals so they can self-actualise and achieve their goals. Now imagine if those goals could be aligned with those of the organisation?
I will leave you with that thought.
Lesley Anne Rubenstein-Pessok, MD of LAR Consultancy Ltd, has spent her whole career in executive roles, working with and training start-ups and SME businesses, helping them to become more efficient, increase turnover, improve profitability, cost effectiveness and create strategies that pay off. Her client testimonials say it all.