The best leaders are oriented toward the future and toward serving others. Therefore, one of the key practices of a leader is to enable those around them. They seek to help their team to grow in their capabilities and to fully exercise and utilize those capabilities toward the success of the organization.
A good leader does not need to control. They build a shared vision, ensure that the team is united and committed to it, and then enable the team to pursue and accomplish that vision. Controlling and directing is management behavior; enabling is leadership behavior.
We can think deeper about the ways that leaders enable others to take action by looking at these six areas:
A part of the practice of enabling others to act is to ensure that the team has the capacity to carry out its mission or vision. Are the right people on the team (adequate manpower and the right mix)? Do they have the right tools? Have we removed or at least identified any roadblocks?
Enabling others to act requires building their capability. While leaders tend to be high-functioning people, they are committed to delegating. They have the self-awareness to know that they might not be the best at everything and should fully utilize the strengths of the team members. More importantly, leaders understand the importance of building capability for the future into team members by providing experience and the opportunity to learn and grow. Rather than take on every task themselves, they prefer to coach others to perform and grow. In order to build the capability of team members, the leader must know them well. They should recognize each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, drivers or motivations, background and beliefs, and so on. This knowledge then leads to informed and intentional delegation.
A culture that tolerates risks and mistakes is a necessity for enabling others to act. If team members live in fear of repercussions, they cannot venture out and take initiative. The culture needs to be one that encourages individual action and growth. Along this line, leaders should publicly praise and offer correction in private. Another part of culture that enables action is the development of an ownership mentality throughout the organization. When the team members feel that they are important contributors to the organization’s success and the mission, they take action to protect and enhance their interest in the organization.
Closely aligned with culture is the need for collaboration to enable action. The team members need to support each other as they take action. When team members step out in action, they should be confident that the rest of the team will provide whatever assistance possible to lead to success. In organizations that are overly political, infighting and undercutting prevents action. The leader must drive collaboration by both modeling it and encouraging it.
Always important in the effectiveness of leaders is the ability to clearly and appropriately communicate and this is true in the practice of enabling others to act. The leader must communicate with the team and with each team member in a way that is responsive to the personality and character of each person. Expectations and vision must be clearly communicated. Because communication is a two-way process, the true leader seeks input and feedback as well. In doing so, the leader draws out the thoughts and places the responsibility for creative action with the team member.
Underlying all of this is the leader’s concern for the well-being and growth of each team member. In other words, leaders need to care about team members. Autonomy is a key motivator of people; they want to have a voice in the control of their lives. When the team members feel that they belong and are valued, they are more likely to truly be a part of the team.
We can see examples everywhere of ineffective leadership, where team members are not valued or are afraid to take any individual action. In these organizations, team members might not understand the vision and how they fit within it. Or there may be a culture where anything that is not assigned is not valued or any mistake is punished. When the organization is only able to perform tasks as assigned, the workers park their creativity and initiative at the door. The result is a crippled organization that is not fully utilizing all of its resources.
In this series on the Key Practices of Leadership, we have been discussing a variety of ways that leaders move their organizations forward. All of these practices flow together to make the leader and the organization more effective. We have examined how leaders build their organizations and their people, how they inspire those around them to achieve a shared vision, how leaders communicate to promote clarity and collaboration, how leaders challenge by removing constraints and changing mindsets, and now how leaders enable action from others. In the next article we will discuss how leaders encourage people through positive relationships.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.