Delegating Sincerely: Avoid the Illusion of Empowerment

The Empowerment Illusion: One of the plagues that can undermine an employee’s development is thinking we are empowering them, when in fact, we are pacing their learning to what we are comfortable with. We half-heartedly do what is necessary for true empowerment, sometimes because there is still an underlying sense of fear…fear that the person will fail, fear that it will be your a$s on the line for it, and rarely…fear of their success. While attempts can feel like steps in the right direction, it is usually a path that adds more confusion for the team than an infusion of ownership. 

Empowering people is a must, and leaders agree with this. The illusion of empowerment is not typically intentional…as the preference is empowerment. What gets in the way is that people are not ‘all in’ when they empower. This is when the team gets confused, or worse…they become indifferent over time because they do see the illusion.

There are six parts contributing to the Empowerment Illusion. Today, let’s start with one of its biggest culprits: Delegation.

Delegating Sincerely…the right way

What most people do: Most people delegate somewhat blindly. As a result, they are subconsciously very worried about what is going to happen and end up interrupting the delegate’s actions…confusing everyone. The act of delegating does not mean you have empowered them, it depends on how thoughtful you were about it. 

When we delegate, we are looking to maximize its benefits: 

  • teaching someone a new skill,

  • create continuity and understanding by communicating the desired outcome,

  • why the desired outcome is important

  • being able to let go (particularly of how the results are achieved),

  • keeping a pulse on progress at first is ok, but resist the temptation to intervene (feedback conversations serve well here, as teachable moments).

Typical infractions in delegation can do more harm than good if it leads to distrust rather than promote trust. 

What you should do instead: Delegate Sincerely: Involvement leads to caring leads to ownership. Simple as that. Be generous and methodical with delegation, set them up for success. Here’s how:

  1. Know your desired outcomes: in two regards.

    1. The task itself: clear deliverables are established and communicated

    2. The point of the delegation: what do you want them to learn? Can you allow for space so the learning can happen, even if it unfolds differently than you are comfortable with?

  2. Check in for questions: People will often be hesitant to ask questions because they do not want you to be worried about their knowledge on the subject. Since we don’t want them lost from the start, reassuring that questions are welcome, put them at ease and they can begin with the end clearly in mind.

  3. Concern yourself less with how: Be concerned with their learning. Multiple wonderful things happen when you do this: you display trust, you allow for them to forge their own path, you build confidence by not interfering, you cultivate thinking that is uniquely theirs (which often leads to pleasant surprises!). If we are not mindful, this is where we can get caught up and want to jump in. Neuroscience shows every single person’s brain is different, start embracing this instead of course correcting.

  4. Feedback: definitely at ‘the end’ to allow for discussion of the process and progress. If needed, feedback can happen throughout the process BUT, you have to be a bit on the suave side to know if they are leaning on you or not.

What happens if you get this right?

  • You begin to truly challenge the individual, which then tells you a lot about their character, their strengths, and what they are made of. Once these uncertainties are known, you will find yourself more comfortable delegating as you begin to understand who they are and how they work. This is the foundation of a great team to leader relationship and lays the way for a healthy working partnership.

  • As you delegate the right way, you will cultivate progress. Progress is the ultimate ingredient in building confidence by capitalizing on momentum. People feel really good when they make progress, it is very powerful when they see their contribution. It fuels involvement leads to caring leads to ownership. As you delegate sincerely more and more, they know they are truly responsible…pride kicks in along with an incredibly strong sense of worth. There is nothing like seeing someone go from cautious and nervous, to having a strut and swagger due to their increased sense of contribution and worth.

  • They cannot blame ‘upper management’ for not understanding, for getting in the way, for ‘not allowing’, or for stifling their creativity. If they are truly given reigns on figuring out how to achieve the what…then it truly is up to them.

If you get this wrong: 

I think we all know how this feels…and most likely, we have been on both ends of delegation done the wrong way. Delegating insincerely ends up being a lot more trouble than its worth. You become the helicopter parent who pretends to be letting the little ones out of the nest, but consumed with every step they take. This drains your energy, annoys your people, and while things may ‘get done’, the impact on the employee’s growth is minimal. 

This obviously hampers any further team development that can happen, and the opportunities for you to ‘go off and go do’, becomes less and less likely. Soon, you will feel like a babysitter rather than a leader, and your team feels like your walk is different than your talk.

Let's Get This Right!

Delegating: there is a right way and a wrong way...let's make sure we are doing it right!