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On September 28, 2015, I wrote a blog about The Vector View on Empowerment: It Used to Be Such a Nice Little Word. In it I described the differences in our view of the use of the words “engagement” and “empowerment.” I provided a bit of history around the concept of empowerment and a bit on how it plays out in an organization.
The key point was that in reality empowerment often gets interpreted at “abdication” on the part of management. I stated “as management empowers employees, it looks as though management abdicated its own responsibility in getting things done like fixing problems and achieving results. The giving of power is very different than creating an atmosphere and a culture where people take the initiative to seek power and assume personal responsibility.”
What we want is to create those opportunities for organizational members to step up, take some individual initiative and assume personal responsibility. Again, it is not about giving it; it is about people taking it. How do you get people to do that?
CONDITIONS FOR INITIATIVE AND RESPONSIBILITY
We hear a lot, these days, about delegating authority and responsibility, or developing initiative, and the benefits to be derived from it. But what is really meant by this? One type of delegation of authority occurs when someone, such as an attorney, is given authority and direction to act on behalf of another individual or organization. This is a limited definition – and the benefits are correspondingly limited. In fact, such a definition can even cheapen the concept, when it is used solely as a device for moving responsibility to another. Managers have been heard to say, “I have given Paul the authority to fix the problem,” when what’s really meant is, “I have directed him to fix the problem (so if it isn’t solved it’s not my fault).”
Fortunately, most people realize that simply giving a work assignment or allocating responsibility and authority does not by itself enable someone to effectively take initiative. Initiative comes from a belief that leads the individual to take action.
Initiative is the assumption of power. It occurs when an individual chooses to act on his own. It is always a personal choice. You can tell someone that they have all the authority necessary to act, but the final decision to take action belongs to that person.
The decision to take initiative requires that the individual. ..
Although the individual must make these judgments, the decision to take power is influenced by:
HOW THE LEADER INFLUENCES INITIATIVE:
Permission to Act– Leaders can help people believe they have permission to act, if they do the following:
Confidence to Act- Individuals’ perception of their competence, and their confidence in themselves are based on previous experience. This is why being labeled a “failure” can operate in such a negative fashion.
Confidence also depends in part on the extent to which others provide support and encouragement, and express their belief that you can succeed. This is why coaching and encouragement for the leader can be powerful. If leaders act as if they believe that others will do their best, they are much more likely to do so.
On the other hand, there are many things leaders do which can destroy confidence: for example, publicly and arbitrary over-riding decisions.’ or insisting on frequent and detailed reports can erode confidence.
People will feel greater confidence to act when leaders do the following:
The leader can also model certain “facilitative” behaviors. These include:
These all must be done at the “right” level: excessive zeal can be seen in a negative light. For example, reckless courage is seen as foolhardiness; excessive self-sacrifice can be seen as martyrdom, and long strings of success can result in unwarranted arrogance – or may mean that only “safe” actions are taken.
HOW THE TEAM INFLUENCES INITIATIVE:
Team practices that enhance initiative include:
The last item is of particular importance; unless people feel that others genuinely value their work, they are unlikely to be willing to take risks or exert more than the minimum effort.
HOW THE ENVIRONMENT INFLUENCES INITIATIVE:
Environmental factors which significantly affect initiative are:
DELEGATION AND INITIATIVE
We all know that we can do a better job if we have help. Delegation is a way to distribute tasks between ourselves and others. But task distribution is not the only purpose of delegation.
There are three purposes for delegation. They are:
The last two are of particular importance to initiative.
Delegation for Recognition
Delegation for recognition means providing opportunities for people to demonstrate to themselves and to the world just what they are capable of doing. It builds confidence through public recognition of accomplishment and success.
This generally means assigning someone a high profile task that you think they are ready to do. For example, letting your assistant make the presentation of the plan you’ve worked on together to the Big Boss. It is best, however, if you personally have available the means to back them up if they go wrong.
Delegation for Development
This is directed at helping others to learn to solve problems on their own – working with them to improve their skills and knowledge. This may involve giving them an assignment in an area that is new to them, or helping them to take more responsibility in a familiar area than they have been doing.
Levels of Delegation
Managers need to assess the level of initiative that is appropriate for a given employee and a given task or set of responsibilities. The level of initiative may vary from employee to employee and from responsibility to responsibility.
Delegating tasks to develop initiative requires:
The manager who totally abdicates responsibility for a situation in the belief that it will develop initiative, often increases the likelihood of failure. Rather than increase initiative, abdication usually leads to employee dissatisfaction and avoidance of responsibility. There are exceptions, when people rise to the occasion under difficult circumstances and perform successfully but we want to make success the rule, not the exception. The chart below illustrates a series of stages for delegation that can help managers effectively develop both the competence and the confidence to take initiative.
For a clearer picture of this, please refer to the following:
Vector Group consultants work with a number of clients on a global basis to create those conditions that not only promote taking initiative and personal responsibility but expect it, support it and maintain it as part and parcel of the culture.
©Vector Group, Inc., 2016
Gary W. Craig is the Managing Partner and COO for the Americas and Asia at Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure are aligned to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at http://www.vectorgroupinc.com or call us at (800) 566-0877.