Do you truly empower your people?

Do you truly empower your people? I believe most leaders would answer that question affirmatively and say “Of course I do.” I am not however convinced this is really true.  My observation in watching people, my own personal experiences, and in the information I receive from my training and teaching activities is that many times leaders actually undermine people’s authority more than they empower.  I think this happens because many leaders suffer from what I would call a desire to be a “superhero.”  Let me explain.

Consider the following situation.  A leader runs into a customer who says there is a problem with something related to the product or service produced by the organization.  Instead of saying to customer, “Have you talked to Mr. X about this problem?  This is something that falls under his responsibility and this is the best place to start,” the leader says, “I’ll look into this or take care of this for you.”  This act, which seems at first to be very customer focus, takes away the power and authority of the person who is supposed to own this task.   The customer “learns” the way to get things done is to just go to the top and the leader ends up getting to be the “superhero” who swoops in to solve a problem that may or may not need solving. 

The leader would be much better served in the long run by truly being an empowering leader by having the customer work with the person who has the responsibility to address the issue.  That doesn’t mean the leader shouldn’t follow up or lend support.  It means the leader needs to show faith and support in his or her people and to hold people accountable. 
From the perspective of the leader this can be really difficult to do.  The desire to make things right can be stronger than the desire to support the total organization.  I run into leaders regularly that can’t understand why their people don’t “step up” and take ownership.  In many of these cases, when I investigate further, I find out that in the past the leader played hero and now people don’t step up because they don’t feel supported!  The leader has created the situation the very situation that he or she is now complaining about.

So, how can a leader avoid undermining the authority of others and instead being empowering?  First the leader needs to ask himself/herself, “Am I the correct person to be receiving this message and is the message being communicated in an appropriate way?”  Second the leader needs to direct the issue to the right person and then step back out of the situation. 
I believe most people can and will do a good job if allowed to do their jobs.  Unfortunately, many people are really not given the support to do so because their leaders are too quick to take over instead of empowering and supporting their staff.