How to empower employees as a leader? Leadership isn’t about controlling your employees, it’s about empowering them and helping them grow. It’s a really important balance on separating the two—but sometimes it can be hard to know what to prioritize.

A leader must have the ability to make the most out of any situation, challenge the status quo, and push others to make them better. The best leaders know how to get the best out of people and enable their full potential.

An employee’s success is partly reliant upon their own capabilities, skills, and drive, but the leaders also shape it they learn from. Some of the world’s best leaders were mentored by other great leaders. They had the wisdom to push their employees to be the best they can be, and it was done by recognizing and empowering their strengths.

What is Employee Empowerment?

Employee empowerment is a philosophy that encourages employees to make their own independent decisions. Leaders empower workers by instilling confidence in them in their roles and providing the necessary support for them to succeed.

Instead of micromanaging, employee empowerment is about giving employees the autonomy to flourish, and the guidance to feel that they can make mistakes and take risks as they grow. In short, employee empowerment helps employees feel comfortable developing as professionals in their careers.

Benefits of Empowering Employees

There are numerous reasons to practice employee empowerment as a leader. Along with supporting your employees’ future success, it helps your company perform better overall.

Here are some benefits to empowering your employees:

  • Improved employee retention: Employees who feel supported and appreciated are more loyal to their company. This reduces employee turnover – which is so important in the midst of the Great Resignation – and inspires employees to continually strive for their best.
  • Employee accountability: When you give your employees the freedom to make their own decisions and take risks in the office, you are investing in their success. Your trust in them holds them accountable for their work and motivates them to work harder.
  • Better customer service: Employees often stall the customer service process to check in with management about how to resolve an issue or to approve a solution. When you empower your employees to get the job done without waiting for approval, you improve your customer service overall.
  • Improve job satisfaction: When an employee is given the leeway to take risks, make mistakes, and learn at their own pace, they tend to be more satisfied with their job overall. In turn, this contributes to a positive work culture and more productivity.
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How Can Leaders Empower Employees?

These 14 effective employee-empowering strategies will give your team the freedom to perform at their best, and a key question that determines whether they’ll live up to their potential. Here’s how leaders can empower employees and support them in their pursuit of success.

1. Demonstrate trust

Trust is vital to empowering employees and gaining their loyalty. It’s important to allow employees to approach projects and tasks their own way, allowing them some leeway to make mistakes as they learn.

This can be challenging for leaders, since it involves relinquishing a little control. Micromanaging doesn’t empower employees – trust does. They may not do everything exactly as you would have, but as long as they get the job done well, the ends justify the means. Let go of your ego and let them find their own path.

Netflix is an excellent example of employee empowerment. It allows autonomy and independence for employees with the No Rules Rules way of working. Leaders trust in their teams to give them their best, setting a high bar for excellence and a sense of project ownership.

2. Communicate effectively

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to get everyone on the same page and ensure the tasks or projects are clearly outlined and understood. If employees don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing or the end result they’re aiming for, they won’t be able to perform well.

Clearly define the tasks or projects for your employees and answer any questions that come up. This is also a good time to define the roles of your staff to ensure they understand their individual responsibilities and how they contribute to the company’s vision.

Buffer is a good example of a culture focused on open communication, feedback, and transparency. Employees have an opportunity to improve company policies and work arrangements to do their best work. Employees give their best with the knowledge that their company cares about them.

3. Encourage growth and development

When employees learn new skills or competencies, it has a positive impact on the company overall. Some companies foster this success in employees through continued education or training programs to enhance personal and professional growth.

Of course, not all companies have the financial means to offer learning and development to their employees. If that’s the case, you can still support your employees by giving them some flexibility in their schedule to attend training or classes. Think of the payoff this will have for your company, and the impact it will have on your employee if they feel valued and supported.

Chipotle understands the value of encouraging employee growth. As part of its mission to Cultivate a Better World, Chipotle offers multiple paths for employees to grow their careers, leadership skills, and passion.

4. Allow vacation and personal time

Burnout is a significant problem in our always-on hustle culture. Though it may seem counterintuitive to give your employees vacation or personal time, it’s essential to preventing burnout. When an employee experiences burnout or becomes stressed and overwhelmed, they’ll get work done, but it’s certainly not their best or most productive work.

Your employees will be more productive and better in their roles if they are well-rested, fresh, and rejuvenated. You don’t need to give your employees constant personal or vacation time, but you should foster an environment that allows employees to take a vacation or long weekend now and again.

Starbucks is the ultimate example of work-life balance in a “hustle culture” industry. The company is a trailblazer in many ways, but it’s ranked well for happiness and overall culture, especially among women and minorities.

5. Show flexibility

Employees aren’t robots – life happens sometimes. Show understanding and support for your employees in supporting their work-life balance. For example, if one of your employees needs a flexible schedule to drop off their kids at school in the morning or pick them up in the afternoon, consider how to make it happen.

If an employee can work from home to care for a sick child or family member, do your best to accommodate them. If a fully remote schedule isn’t feasible, consider if you could have a part-time or hybrid work-from-home schedule that may help your employee better manage their responsibilities outside of work. You may even find that your employees are more productive when they work in the environment of their choice.

Kronos Inc. sees flexible scheduling as a key to attracting and retaining talent and helping employees grow and develop their careers. According to CEO Aron Ain, “employees want flexible work arrangements,” and that’s important for motivating employees and increasing engagement.

6. Practice forgiveness

Empowering your employees means allowing them to make mistakes. Sounds simple, right? Many leaders don’t get this vital piece of the puzzle right. Giving employees the freedom and leeway to make mistakes is easier said than done, especially if the mistakes have a big impact on a project.

Unfortunately, if you get angry with your employees every time they make a mistake, they’ll only feel nervous and afraid of taking risks. Give them the courage and confidence to take more risks, and possibly fail, so they can learn and grow.

Freedom to fail is at the core of Adobe’s “no hovering” work policy. The company discourages micromanagement and hand-holding, instead allowing employees to ideate and execute with their final responsibility. Employees work on challenging projects and have responsibility for what they create.

7. Improve their performance

A strong leader has a good sense of how much an employee can handle, how they perform under pressure, how tolerant they are to stress, and how willing they are to accept new challenges. Helping them reach their full potential means identifying and developing the weaknesses in these areas, so they can rise to the occasion on their own.

Leaders can encourage employees to take risks, challenge the status quo, and test their own ideas. Eventually, the skills to take on more challenges and stress will develop organically.

Ahead of the curve throughout its history, Progressive is known as a workplace that pushes tough goals and empowers employees to achieve those goals in their own way. Employees are cross-trained and held to standards of excellence so that everyone gives their all.

8. Foster employee strengths

Recognizing and fostering each employee’s strengths and weaknesses gives you the tools to empower them in ways that work best for their own development and your company's future. For example, if you have one employee who’s an exceptional public speaker, allow them to lead a meeting or another event.

If you have another employee who’s shy and prefers to be behind the scenes, give them an opportunity to shine by allowing them to write the company newsletter or organize a schedule for an event. In this way, you’re giving each employee a chance to shine in their own comfort zone.

GoDaddy encourages its employees to grow by providing support and programs, including the MyCareer program that offers career resources and training, workshops, conversation guides, and more.

9. Listen to feedback

A good leader can listen to and accept feedback as much as they give it. You should encourage open feedback and ideas from employees but also be receptive to their issues and concerns. This allows you to attend to your employee’s needs, clear up any misunderstandings, and position your employee for success.

This is also a chance for you to show your employee that they’re heard, valued, and supported. If your employees feel they have a chance to impact positive change in the company, they’ll become more invested in its overall success.

A real-world example of a company that puts this into practice is Microsoft. Using employee engagement surveys, Microsoft allows employees to share opinions on career advancement, employee development programs, and other company decisions. The results are open to employees and give them a clear sense of purpose.

10. Show appreciation

Employees are paid to come to work and do their jobs, but most people need more motivation to reach their potential. It’s always helpful for your employees to receive encouragement and signs of appreciation.

The next time your employee does something exceptional, such as a sales call that went well or a perfect brief or report, let them know that their work is appreciated. Your employee will have more job satisfaction and be more motivated to deliver high-quality work in the future.

Whole Foods offers employee development classes, self-directed employee empowerment, and employee recognition as part of a company culture of gratitude and acknowledgment. Whole Foods also offers employee recognition awards to highlight exceptional team members.

11. Inspire creativity

Just because you’ve been doing something the same way for your entire career doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only way (or the best way) to do it. There are always different or better ways to solve problems and accomplish tasks, and sometimes, fresh eyes are the way to make that happen.

Encourage your employees to share creative business solutions. You’ll not only save yourself some hassle, but you may end up with a better result. It also challenges you to push your own creativity and move out of your comfort zone to find different ways to accomplish the same tasks.

One of the most notable examples of this in practice is Google. Renowned for its company culture, Google implemented the 20% rule, which gives employees 20% of their workweek to experiment with new ideas and explore their creativity. Some of the most popular products, including Gmail and Google News, have arisen from this rule.

12. Adopt an open-door policy

If you want your employees to know that their opinions and feedback are valued and appreciated, an open-door policy leaves no doubt. This isn’t just a rule about having a proverbial “open door,” but leave your door open as often as you can.

Your employees will feel more comfortable and confident coming to you with input and feedback and will take a more active role in your company. You need to back this up by being open and receptive to feedback and suggestions.

Despite being a massive multinational technology company, IBM has had an open-door policy for many years. Employees have an opportunity to access upper-level management to speak confidentially about concerns or problems.

13. Get to know your employees

A lot of leaders try to keep some separation of their personal lives. While this is a good practice, that doesn’t mean you can’t engage in any small talk. Make it a habit to sit down with employees and engage in one-on-one conversations, whether it’s in your office, the break room, or outside of the office. Make sure to ask about their work progress, but also about their personal lives.

This doesn’t need to venture into inappropriate topics for the office. You can discuss your employees’ families, hobbies, pets–anything personal and work appropriate. This will lead to a friendlier and more productive office environment that fosters success.

Talent Plus, Inc. takes a unique approach to getting involved with employees by allowing them to bring family to company events like the Great Take Off Day. All new associates begin on the same day each month and conclude with a celebration with coworkers and family.

14. Surround potential with more potential

Leaders should surround employees with a lot of potential with other employees of high potential. Together, each of these employees will strengthen each other and develop a mindset in which they’re not afraid to take chances and experience the lessons of mistakes and failure.

Along with developing employees, this strategy builds a strong foundation of talent by surrounding everyone with experienced and knowledgeable people. No matter how much potential any one employee has, it will never flourish if it's not cultivated and nurtured.

Twitter keeps employees satisfied in a team-oriented environment with a lot of perks, such as rooftop lunches and yoga sessions, but that’s not all. Employees rave about the culture and how they love working with other smart, successful people, which pushes everyone to succeed.

Your Employees’ Successes Are Your Own

Great leaders don’t allow employee potential or ambition to lose its momentum. Recognizing and empowering your employees takes work, but with the right mindset and tools, these employees can reach their fullest potential, feel comfortable in their learning process, and become more productive and creative members of the company’s team. In turn, these employees will become more loyal and have a strong impact on the company’s overall success.

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