Your company works best when you empower your employees to take the initiative, says leadership consultant Manley Hopkinson
You cannot force a person to step forwards or, for that matter, to sit back, and I don’t mean physically of course. No, I mean that, as a leader, you cannot force any of your team to take the initiative, to own the outcome, to put in the extra effort or to come up with the ideas – they must “want” to do it. Your leadership role is to create that want. It is the difference between forcing compliance and inspiring commitment. If you can gain your employees’ commitment then you have everything. With commitment comes engagement, collaboration, innovation, ownership, initiative, and performance.
Think about it from your own perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you had to do something that you really didn’t want to? I am telling you now that you have no choice. What emotion does that scenario stimulate in you? Resentment? Anger? Frustration? “OK, if I really have to, I will” – deep sigh! What is the quality of your work like? Is it your best? I doubt it. It will be OK because you have some pride, but, that’s all.
Now, how about if I ask you to do something that you want to do, that you truly value and that you know adds value to your life too? Better, hey? Now you are excited and enthused. Quality of the work? Your best of course. Ideas and improvements? Naturally. Ownership, extra effort and pride? It all follows.
Now look at your team. Are they sitting back or stepping forwards? Are they compliant to your wishes or committed to the cause? This is up to you. Your number one job as a leader is to create that want, that commitment, that step forward. So the answer to the question: “How do I empower my employees to take the initiative?” Is to “gain their commitment”. You are going to have to work hard at this, as commitment is not given freely. It is not an intellectual statement. It is a hard-earned, precious commodity that must be cared for and nurtured. So, let’s look at how we can earn this.
The route to commitment is self-worth, and self-worth comes from the conscious alignment of who a person is and what they are doing. So, by definition, this requires the coming together of two elements: the organisational purpose and culture with the individual purpose and culture. It is about your employees knowing that they are adding value and that they are valued. That you are asking them to be their true authentic selves; square peg – square hole, round peg – round hole. There are 3 steps to commitment:
Step 1: Organisational meaning
What does your organisation stand for? What value does it add to society? What are your values, and your culture? How aligned is your strategy to your purpose? How aligned are your values to your strategy? Are all these clearly articulated and understood by all – internally and externally?
Growth is not a strategy by the way, it is an outcome. Shareholder return is not the purpose. It is both a necessity and, again, an outcome. Growth and profit are the outcomes of your employees stepping forward, but are not the route to get them to step forward. They might be your destination but they are not the journey or the reason, for these must belong to your team. Engage your employees in creating your values and purpose. Spend time with them building understanding of the reasons for any strategic decisions and get their input into your purpose, because their involvement in this first step makes the third step so much easier.
Step 2: Individual authenticity
The second element for alignment is your employees purpose and culture; their values and sense of who they are. It’s not about what society expects of them, but what their own intrinsic drivers and motivators are. You will need to foster a culture of emotional intelligence and psychological safety that enables this critical individual authenticity.
Step 3: Collective brilliance
So now we know what your organisation stands for and how it behaves, we know what your employees stand for and how they want to behave. So, all we have to do is make that conscious alignment. For you, your leadership team and all your employees to be able to consciously and actively “map” yourselves into the organisation at an emotional level. That is the source of self-worth that delivers the commitment to lift them slumped from their chairs into the arena of excitement, initiative and performance.
This will take a focused leadership effort. It is not easy, but it is powerful. And it’s worth it.
About the author
Manley Hopkinson is the founder of leadership consultancy Manley Talks LTD and The Compassionate Leadership Academy. He is also the author of ‘Compassionate Leadership’ and a sought-after keynote speaker.