I am a football fan. Football seasons is never long enough. The first Sunday of the NFL season should be a national holiday. When Super Bowl Sunday is over we need a national day of mourning.
Recently I watched some footage of Emmitt Smith's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For those who do not know, Emmitt was one of the greatest running backs of all time and helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to multiple championships.
His speech was more impressive than anything I ever saw from him on the field. The words he spoke were laced with gratitude and humility. The majority of his time was spent thanking others who helped him reach his achievements. He highlighted former mentors, school teachers and high school coaches.
Then Emmitt shared one moment that shaped him significantly. He spoke of a Thanksgiving when he was six years old. Just like every year his family had gathered and were watching the Cowboys play football. Emmett said as he watched the game he spoke in a hushed tone, "One day I will play in the NFL, and I will play for the Dallas Cowboys." Having thought no one in the crowded room heard him he was shocked to hear a familiar voice rise above the noise saying, "Yes you will, Emmitt. Yes you will." That voice belonged to Smith's father. He reflected that at various times throughout his life and career those words empowered him to keep moving forward.
Part of leadership is being the voice that empowers others to achieve greatness. You have the ability to do for someone else what Emmitt's father did for him. If you are a pastor, stay at home mom or CEO, you are called to raise up leaders who will accomplish more than you ever could. I have found there are some keys to empowering those around you. Find leaders with potential and grow them into who they were created to be. Take a few minutes to discover six practical things you can do this week to help other leaders soar.
Give away authority.
Empowerment is entrusting others with authority. Delegating tasks comes up short. Giving responsibility is not enough. Responsibility delivers a result, authority shares a burden. The only way to turn people into real leaders is to give authority to them.
The litmus test of authority comes down to the answer to one question: Do they have the power to make decisions? Empowerment creates decision makers. If there are layers of approval someone has to go through to arrive at every decision, they do not really have authority. Authority leads to quicker and better decisions. Empowerment begins with giving away authority.
People fear messing up. It is human nature. Anyone who is given authority feels the weight of it and worries one mishap will destroy everything. Plus they simply do not want to disappoint you. Part of your role is assuring them this is not the case. Confident people make better decisions. Slow down and assure your team. Simply say to them, "There is not a mistake you can make that I cannot fix."
Another way to instill confidence in people is by creating finishable tasks. This is especially helpful with younger leaders. Before you empower them in big areas, give them authority over some smaller things to build them up. Let them lead a team or execute an event that is in their wheelhouse. Create opportunities that make them think, "I can do this today."
Clearly define boundaries.
Where are the lines of authority on a role? What is the scope of a decision someone can make? What do you have to sign off on? What do you need to know before something is done? Be sure to answer the big questions up front when trusting people to lead. If not, there is a risk you will undermine someone's authority before they even begin.
A simple way to do this is by creating a "High Bar, Low Bar" system. Define what the lowest standard is that you never want to be brought into. The lets your team know that it is a bother to you if elements below this bar are brought to you. It guards you from being drug into minutia you do not have time for. A high bar determines the top decisions that cannot be made without your input. Perhaps you do not want personnel changes, strategic adjustments or expenses over a certain amount made without your involvement. Provide the top and bottom, but nothing in terms of lateral boundaries. This gives space in how execution and implementation occurs...and you do not box people in. Clarity gives confidence.
One reason you empower other leaders is so you will not become the bottleneck of progress. Simply put, you must remove yourself. This is a discipline leaders have to force upon themselves. It is sobering to hear that you do not need to be in every room, meeting and decision. What is even more powerful is knowing better decisions may be made without you around.
There is another reason you should remove yourself. When you are in the room, you sway the room. It is the downside of powerful leaders. Even when you do not mean to you intimidate people, create second guessing in others, and can have people answer based on what they think you will approve of rather than what they really think. Is this healthy? No. Is it reality? Quite often. Create space between you and the process by stepping out of situations that require others to exercise authority. When you delegate authority to another leader but stay present in the process, all you have done is create a hollow figurehead.
Keep accountability high.
Authority without accountability is a path to disaster. When issues arise you are the living breathing guardrails that keep authority channeled in the right direction. Accountability tests the mettle of potential leaders. You can see who crumbles under pressure or rises to occasions. I do not want someone moving up the chain who cannot handle this tension. While you will not let them wreck the organization, you have to sometimes be willing to let them wreck themselves. Bail out the organization, do not bail them out. They need to feel their mistakes and they need clean them up.
A small way to keep accountability high is in how you talk to people. You have to let people know that something is not up to standard without robbing them of the authority you are giving them and without saving them by providing the answer. When you bump into moments where someone needs gentle correction some good words to use are, "Hmm, you can do a lot better than that. Let me know when you have fixed it." Then walk away. It is a little awkward, but they will get the point and they will bear the burden to improve.
Talk it out.
Empowerment needs a system. Create space in the calendar to have frequent one-on-one dialogue with those you give authority. Synergy beats isolation every time. One reason a leader can only delegate authority to a select few at a time is due to this principle. It takes time!
When I have these conversations I focus on two areas: Actions and Attitudes. Make sure you speak into the decisions they make, get inside their head to discover reasoning, give feedback on their performance and correct what you do not like. Tell them what was wrong and ask them why they did it. Then be quiet. Listen. Hear their responses. At the same time deal with their personality, people skills, body language and overall attitude as well. Do not be afraid to let them make mistakes, but do not ignore them. Their mistake today will make them better tomorrow.
You can build a great career based on your skill set and talent. You can build a legacy if you learn to empower other leaders. Calling out and nurturing the potential of others not only solidifies your leadership, it also promises your organization will be even stronger when you are gone. Look around you for someone to trust with authority today. Do for them what Emmitt Smith's father did for him. Empower them with a "yes you can" of their own.