Articles

Being Methodical About Empowerment

May 25, 2022 - By Rachael Cowin, Associate, MA (Cantab), CEng FIMechE

In the Legitimate Leadership Framework there are five steps to guide managers in effectively handing over control. In a recent discussion with managers, they pointed out two instances in which following the five steps methodically prevented them from rushing through and endangering the success of the process.

The five steps in the Legitimate Leadership Framework are: 1, decide on the next incremental handover; 2, teach people the why and how; 3, test for ability (know-how and know-why); 4, hand over the means, including decision-making authority; and 5, hold the person accountable.

In the discussion with managers about situations in which empowerment had failed, the conclusion was that this had commonly been because they had rushed through teaching people and testing for ability (steps 2 and 3 above). The conclusion was they had rushed because they had acted expediently and wanted to assume that they could move on in one step.

Two leaders in the group shared specific examples in which using the Legitimate Leadership five-step process made them more methodical and incremental.

Leader One had a team member who was looking to progress in the organisation. Leader One took a specific task, namely dealing with bringing a craft into the waterfront. He applied Legitimate Leadership’s direct-coach-support-delegate methodology – namely, the team member accompanies the leader a few times, after the leader has briefed the team member on what to look for (the way instructions are issued, for example). On the next occasion, therefore, the team member led the activity with Leader One in attendance. But the real test was on the day that Leader One was attending the Legitimate Leadership module, while the team member was ‘in the chair’ carrying out the task. The leader returned later to see how it went and to debrief.

Leader Two had a team member who was virtually flying solo in an area in which he was being empowered.  Recognising that in incremental suspension of control, unusual situations may still need a little hand-holding, Leader Two spotted a meeting in which the team member would be dealing with a particularly challenging customer, so Leader Two accompanied the team member.  Leader Two had made it clear that the team member was in charge but sought permission to step in if appropriate.  In the event Leader Two did handle one particular challenge, and this was fully debriefed on after the meeting. The team member was appreciative and felt supported (not undermined, which could have been the case if stepping in hadn’t been discussed ahead of the meeting). Leader Two had used this as an opportunity to coach so that the team member felt he could handle a similar situation in future.

Rachael Cowin
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