I recently heard someone talking about a golfer who was playing very well in his club’s tournament, however, there was a group in front of him drinking beer all day and acting increasingly rowdy. The golfer was determined to ignore the noisy distraction and focus on his next shot. That strategy appeared to be working as the ball was flying through the air and heading straight where he was aiming. Then all of the sudden something terrible happened and the ball went careening off course. The perplexed golfer walked toward his ball and noticed an empty beer can laying on the fairway. The golf ball hit the beer can, ricocheted off course and now he had a terrible lie (ball position). The golfer was furious. This could very well cost him the game.
What should he do now?
This year we have all “hit a beer can” in our personal and professional lives and have been thrown off course. There is no “normal” or even “new norm.” There is only the New Reality of working, leading and living differently. For how long nobody knows for certain. One thing we do know is the way we do business will look different moving forward. As leaders, we must embrace the differences and create an environment where our teams feel empowered to contribute and help establish that new reality.
Empowerment is not delegating and disappearing. It is about the presence of leadership, which creates an atmosphere of unity, support, and encouragement. We need to remain close enough to support but far enough away where the empowered person can make decisions, take risks, be creative, solve problems, and own the accountability. When empowerment is delegated correctly, meaning all three elements are in place – responsibility, defined authority and accountability – the individual will take ownership and do whatever it takes to be successful. The power of self-determination, unconstrained free will, and commitment to accomplishment, become the driving forces of success.
We hire based on certain skills, spend money training and developing individuals, but often those talents go untapped because managers are not willing to properly empower those employees. Empowerment is a commonly overused term. People give it different meanings, misuse and abuse it. Too many people think of empowerment as simply delegating. That is only one part of the definition. So, let’s define empowerment.
Empowerment includes giving someone the appropriate responsibility and clearly defined authority, noting any specific circumstances or exceptions where the individual must check with their manager before proceeding. Outside the defined exceptions, the individual has complete authority to make decisions and take action. However, the individual must also fully understand they are accepting accountability for the outcome whether celebrating a great success for wins, meeting an adequate outcome, or falling short of expectations.
I previously worked in a hotel as Director of Sales and Marketing. When I started with the hotel, I made an argument for advertising locally versus nationally. At the time, most hotels were gaining 80% of their business from out of state, whereas, Charlotte was receiving a majority of their business from companies situated locally. I felt most of our advertising dollars should remain local. The Divisional director said they hired me because I knew the market in Charlotte and that I could use my advertising budget as I deemed appropriate. I was empowered to make financial decisions regarding advertising as long as I stayed within the budget.
However, he also said that I would be held accountable for the hotel’s level of profitability as a result of how I spent those dollars – I owned it.
As management, we can transfer responsibility, but we cannot transfer the full measure of accountability. We, as the leader, remain ultimately accountable. However, we’ve got to be sure a mechanism is in place where the empowered individual shares in the pleasure or the pain of success or failure.
Ultimately the Big 3: profitability, productivity and efficiency, are all tied into how well we can empower those around us.
Back to the golfer…
What should he do now? What should we do now that we have been thrown off course?
Breath, let go, develop a new strategy, and own it:
- If you are behind and losing the game and think you should go for it, take a risk and go for it even though there might only be a 10% chance of success. We learn from failures as much as success.
- If you are 3 shots ahead, safely pitch the ball up on the green to avoid a big risk and then develop a new strategy.
Either way, be empowered and empower others to develop a plan, make decisions and move forward toward your new reality as a team. The game may depend on it.
Focus on the shot in front of you, not the one behind you.