Three Empowerment Techniques

Three simple ways you won’t have thought of to help someone empower themselves at work

OK, you might have thought of some of these, but they’re so simple, and so effective, that they often seem to get overlooked and are definitely worth repeating.

First things first, notice that it’s about helping someone to empower themselves, not doing it for them (which is actually disempowering). I reckon a lot of corporate programmes fall down right at this first hurdle, trying to spoon-feed empowerment to their staff instead of creating the conditions in which people want to take power for themselves. Perhaps that second option is just a bit too scary in some organisations?

1. Ask for their help

Nothing helps people realise what they’re capable of better than an opportunity to help somebody else. If you can do this in a way that is genuine, i.e. on something where you really do need their help, that’s good. If you can do it in a way that shows that asking for help is itself an act of strength, not weakness, even better.

2. Tell them what you see

This one is really so sweet and so powerful that it should come with a government health warning! People take themselves for granted. They forget about their good qualities and they focus on the things that they don’t like about themselves. You can change that in an instant with this way of giving people recognition.

Take a moment to remind someone about a resourceful quality of theirs that you have noticed them using. The format is really simple, but does take some guts to use. It goes like this: “I noticed that you were really [resourceful quality] during [recent situation]; that’s a great quality to have.”  Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’ll say to the barista in my coffee shop, just for practice:

I noticed that you were really calm and helpful with that difficult customer just now. That’s a great quality to have.

3. Be kind in their presence

Everybody knows by now that acts of kindness are contagious; when you see someone being kind you tend to pay it forwards yourself.  People are less aware that there’s an unconscious association of kindness with resourcefulness. It’s like part of your brain says to itself: “Oh, I’ve just been kind! I must have the strength of mind and physical resources that mean I can spare some for others”. Whenever you get the chance, role-model this for people and use the contagious power of kindness to remind people just how resourceful they really are.

Informal Team Alignment Exercise

Is your business the “winningest” team?
Fun wordplay to help your team stay aligned

This is a fun exercise to try when your team is working well together and you’d like to keep the momentum going, or for when you need to lighten to the mood a little.

My 14 year old son is mad about American Football at the moment, so we’re learning lots of new team sport strategies and techniques and the jargon that goes with them. My favourite piece of American Football jargon so far, has been the term “winningest“, which the OED defines as follows:

Winningest
adj, North American, informal:

Having achieved the most success in competition:

‘the winningest team in pro-football history’

I did a lot of my early coach training in the US and I’m a big fan of how North Americans don’t let formal grammar get in the way of clear, concise and even fun communication. So I’ve been using this approach recently in my work with top teams and boards, to help them think about what kind of team they are. It also helps with getting more creativity and risk-taking, as it’s a subtly-rule-breaking exercise.

I usually start by introducing the term winningest and then ask them to take some other words they like and make similarly informal terms out of them that help describe who they are as a team.

Start with an “…ing” word and just add “est” to play along. Don’t worry about which part of speech your word is (because that’s kind of the point here). For example:

  • Amazingest – we’re the team that makes you go wow
  • Challengingest – we just don’t back down
  • Encouragingest – every one of us is a born cheerleader
  • Energisingest – you’ll never feel tired on this team
  • Fulfillingest – simply the most rewarding team to be part of
  • Surprisingest – we really love new ideas
  • Workingest – we try harder.

If your team was an “…est”, what kind of est would it be?


Leadership Modes and Trekking

Why leadership, and the styles you use, are a lot like going on a tough hike

We had an amazing family break this summer, as part of a group camping and trekking in the US national parks in Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Being part of a group of strangers thrown together in relatively tough conditions like that is, for me at least, a great chance to see how we lead and behave together. Although there’s a guide, different people take-on different leadership roles during the trek as situations change and this one was over enough time to see how the dynamics worked.

I noted lots of different kinds of leadership modes in operation on the trek. And I know from my coaching that the same opportunities to lead like this come-up again and again at work.

So, as I write this at the end of the calendar year, I’m curious to know which of these leadership modes have been part of your kitbag at work over the last year?
Which is the one that tends to predominate for you?
And which is the mode you hardly ever use?

At the head of the group on a walk
Usually the fittest person, or the one keenest to get us to the campsite before sundown! Says stuff like: “Come on, if we step-up the pace a little, we’ll be there in no time”

Standing up and holding a map
Full of enthusiasm for what’s possible to go and see that day. Says stuff like: “Did you guys know that there’s a hidden valley right over this bluff? The views down to the river at sunrise will be spectacular”

In the team van at a crossroads
Wants everybody to have the best experience, for them. Says stuff like: “Looks like we’ve got two choices of destinations, and/or an early lunch. What do you guys feel like doing together?”

Being clear at the campfire
Managing a bunch of tired, hungry and mixed-experience campers. Says stuff like: “You go get some water, you get the campfire going and you two get the grill set-up; I’ll show you how”

Keeping us together during a trek
At the back, in the middle, at the front; starting conversations; checking people are ok. Says stuff like: “Would you mind keeping an eye on Steve and checking that his knee isn’t playing-up later on?”

At the start of a trail
Wants each person to experience all that they’re capable of. Says stuff like: “If you want to, you’ll be able to get right to the end of this canyon today. How much water do you think you’ll take?”

Let me know how your own leadership modes changed with circumstances during the year?
 

Team Performance Using DRIL

The 4-step approach to great team performance: Design, Rehearse, Implement, Learn

I’m often surprised by how much of an expectation people set for themselves about being able to do stuff exactly right, first time. It happens a lot in business; even with professionals who’ve spent years acquiring expert knowledge in their subject. In other walks of life – the arts, the military, for example – there’s a much more progressive attitude to practising things before being expected to get them right.

And the area where people seem to have the highest expectations without putting in preparation is about how teams perform. Great teams don’t just happen – they are created and nurtured.

Here’s my DRIL – the four steps for getting really great performance out of teams:

  1. Design – what is it you want to achieve and how, together, will you go about it?
  2. Rehearse – practise it; walk it through in your minds or on the whiteboard;
  3. Implement – if you can hold-off implementation long enough to have done Design and Rehearse, then it can be done fast and with conviction, often saving time;
  4. Learn – you’d think that learning from what worked and what didn’t would be old news by now. It isn’t – maybe because a great team is never done learning.

Strategic Management

What to do if your board or top-team is not looking at the critical success factors that your business needs to tackle

It’s easy for boards and top-teams to get caught-up in the routine of managing the business and even in the routine of managing the board agenda! My experience has been that if you give people the opportunity to examine the right issues and some structure to do it with, they’ll usually be more than ready to do so.


As a working definition, a Critical Success Factor (CSF) is anything that is vital for your strategy to be successful. You can think of a CSF as a make or break issue – hence “critical”.  One relatively easy way to identify some of your CSFs is to ask the question: “Why would a customer choose us instead of a competitor?


Just occasionally, there are two factors which can unconsciously create resistance to taking the right amount and quality of time for your board or top-team to properly examine the factors that make your business successful. Those are:

  1. without necessarily admitting it to themselves or to each other, directors are aware that something important is not going right
  1. the organization is very busy but not outstandingly successful financially and there’s an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentally getting in the way of doing it better.

If that’s the case in your business, you’ll need to act as a catalyst and influencer so that the right people will give these issues their conscious attention. If you’re the boss, that’s relatively easy to do and it may be you’ve just not had the time or process to think about it before. If you’re not the boss, you’ll need to start building alliances and setting out the case for change, so that the Critical Success Factors for your business can be managed properly.

If you want to get a head-start identifying your CSFs, try downloading my area-analysis grid by clicking on the picture at the top of this article. This grid is also a great process to use at a board awayday session. Try sticking a big grid on the wall or the floor and then populating it with Post-its.

 

A Leaders’ Guide to One-to-One Meetings

Ten ways to use one-to-one meetings to block progress, disempower people and avoid an embarrassing sense of being a team

 

Click on the picture above to download your own copy.

 

Oh, and I forgot number 11:

Always write it as “1-2-1” and never “one-to-one”. Because (a) words are just so hard to type and read, and (b) it’s so much quicker to use numbers and other shorthand than to muck about referring to actual people.