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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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Training managers: How empowerment can crack the code

A fine balance of communication, respect and freedom are needed to create good managers.

L&D professionals talk often about how to ‘empower’ learners, but what does this mean in practice? Primarily it’s connected with imbuing the person with a sense of confidence in their own abilities. Leaders preparing managers to take on greater responsibility need to do just this, by creating a culture in which they can grow.

A 2017 study investigating the effects of empowering leadership on employee work behaviour found that empowering leaders is highly effective in influencing employee creativity and behaviour like helping coworkers, and that these leaders are also more likely to be trusted compared to those who do not empower their employees.

According to McKinsey & Company, however, the type and scope of decisions and the leadership style are two factors that affect how effective empowerment will be. The level of involvement is important and will vary for different managers. Equally, leaving employees with too much autonomy and without the benefit of coaching can lead to costly mistakes or isolation instead of further advancement. 

A personalised approach 

Many employees tell us at the heart of empowerment is good communication, respect and freedom. Benefits of empowering managers (and their teams) include growth in confidence, increased engagement and job satisfaction, having a deeper understanding of their team’s needs and developing a sense of accountability but they need the authority, resources, and support in order to do this. 

Don’t micromanage and don’t let them either. Check in with appropriate frequency primarily with a listening ear

The gains to the organisation are equally impressive, from increased employee engagement, loyalty, retention, customer satisfaction, turnover and business performance. 

What is clear is that leaders can create the conditions for managers and their teams to thrive and flourish, but what is really needed are the tools to make good decisions and the right level of guidance and involvement from leaders in every unique, person-centric situation. 

This being the case, how can leaders successfully empower managers? 

Give them the keys

Delegate authority to managers to make decisions and take ownership of their responsibilities within their areas of expertise whilst providing them with the resources they need to achieve their goals.

Make continuous learning part of your culture

Managers should be encouraged to learn and develop their skills through coaching, leadership development programmes, mentoring, training and providing resources.

Giving flexibility equates to ‘I trust you’

Gain their trust 

Offer support and guidance to managers when needed. Don’t micromanage and don’t let them either. Check in with appropriate frequency primarily with a listening ear, and make sure they know the door is always open if issues arise.

Be flexible

Many managers and employees have voted with their feet and reviewed their priorities and lives post-pandemic. They want to be more empowered to have better work/life conditions through flexibility. Giving this flexibility equates to ‘I trust you’.

Find a balance between business strategy and people-centricity 

When HR successfully bridges financials with its people, managers will find the flow of the organisation much smoother to fulfill their, their team’s and the business’s objectives. 

Prioritise purpose and values

By displaying authenticity and congruence with the company’s values and showing real alignment with the purpose, this will ensure that managers get behind the organisation's overall objectives. In this way, they can reflect on the big picture before they execute their plans.

Empowered managers find creative solutions and become more effective problem-solvers

Facilitate collaboration and communication

Encourage managers to collaborate with each other and with other departments to share best practices and develop innovative solutions. Try reverse mentoring as a win-win for cross-sectional learning and sharing of ideas and experiences.

Be clear with your expectations

Communicate clear expectations for the role and responsibilities of the manager, as well as the goals and objectives for the team to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Create a positive feedback culture

Provide regular feedback on performance and encourage open communication between managers and employees. This helps managers identify areas for improvement and motivates them to continue developing their skills.

Leaders need to be wellbeing champions, so the workplace becomes a central hub for positive mental health and wellbeing

Allow creative space

Empowered managers find creative solutions and become more effective problem-solvers, but they need the space to do it.

Make managerial wellbeing a priority

Look at personal risks such as burnout, conflicting demands, excessive workloads, bullying, conflict and harassment. Leaders need to be wellbeing champions, so the workplace becomes a central hub for positive mental health and wellbeing. The three biggest barriers to managerial wellbeing are usually budget (curtailing training), managers being too time-poor and the view that internal training will suffice. 

Empowering managers to shine is not something that can be done in one go - it requires continuous effort throughout the organisation to become truly embedded and successful. 

If you liked this, read: Empower employees to be the masters of their own careers.

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