Nigel McPolin
Founder, etimes2 ltd

Leading empowered employees is the stuff of nightmares for many managers.  Many focus on how empowered employees can be ‘managed’ or ‘controlled’.  Fear seems to rise from the prospect of not getting the tasks completed because of uncontrollable innovation and team members going off in their own direction losing focus of the team objective.


Leading empowered employees, however, is much easier than leading and managing a team of followers.  Your biggest challenge will be to break the ‘leader-follower’ mind-set.


Leading empowered employees: two steps

There are two steps you need to take in order to break the leader-follower mind-set in your team.  First, you will need to review how you lead.  Second, you need to work on the ‘follower’ habit in your team.


We will look at step 1 in this blog and deal with step 2 next week.

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Step1: Reviewing how you lead

It is most probable that your leadership style is feeding into ‘leader-follower’ thinking.  In fact, you may even have created and embedded this culture in the team you lead because it feels safer and better that every decision comes from you.  Having a team of followers, though, actually drives down performance and productivity.  So, now is a good time to review how you lead:


  1. What kind of leader are you, really?

We have all completed various leadership style questionnaires.  What did yours say?  What strengths and weaknesses did it highlight?  Is your style conducive to leading empowered employees – i.e. sharing control?


Reflect on these results and how your strengths and weaknesses as a leader manifest themselves in the workplace.  Create an action plan to put the strengths into practice that you feel can help you when leading empowered employees.

  1. Participate in a well-designed 360 feedback programme

The best way to determine what kind of leader you are is to undertake 360 feedback.  Invite your full team to provide feedback both in terms of ratings and comments.  This will quickly highlight your leadership style and impact, both good and bad.


A good 360 report will give you clearly identified development needs both through the data and what your managers, colleagues and direct reports tell you.

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  1. Reflect on your attitude towards team members:
  • Being innovative

How do you react when your employees are innovative and creative, trying to make work better, more efficient and increase customer satisfaction?

Identify actions that you can take to encourage innovation.  For example, schedule a slot in your next team meeting to discuss how to create a safe environment for your team members to be innovative.  Ask your team what they need from you in order to innovate and be creative in their job while still meeting individual and team goals.

From these discussions, create an approach to creativity and innovation with your team that works for everyone, and where control is shared.


  • Challenging the status quo

Ask your team members how they feel about challenging the status quo in your team.  Do they feel comfortable or have they been put off by your responses in the past?  How do they feel about the current status quo – i.e. is it conducive to creating sustainable high quality outputs or does it wear them down?

Agree an approach with your team members so they can challenge the status quo safely and in the spirit of improving the workplace for everyone.

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  • Succeeding and/or being recognised by senior management

Think back to a time when one of your team members has achieved individual success and been recognised by senior management.  How did you react?  Were you genuinely happy for their achievement?  How did you celebrate it in your own team?

Create an approach to recognising and celebrating both individual and team successes.  For example, you could include a slot in team meetings to ‘shout out’ such successes.  Or, maybe you would prefer to have a monthly ‘celebration’ over buns/cake just to highlight successes that month.

Remember, for employees to feely truly empowered, they will need to feel like a valued individual, not just a small cog in the team.  So, make sure you celebrate individual success as well as team.


  • Failure

How do your team feel about trying something new and failing?  This probably depends quite a lot on how you have reacted in the past.  Are you a manager who makes it clear that there is no room for mistakes on your watch?  Or, do you see failure as a natural part of innovation and creativity?

Your team will not innovate if they are afraid of failing.  Create a safe environment by discussing how failure when trying out new ideas is OK as long as the person(s) involved learn from it.

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