There’s a problem at your company. Maybe employees aren’t meeting the delivery schedules. Maybe efficiency is being held hostage.
Time to call in a superhero.
Up in the sky, what’s that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s…
…the employees directly beneath you. That’s right—caped crusaders where the “S” stands for “subordinates.”
Throughout over ten years of experience as a business consultant and project manager, people often hire me hoping I’ll single-handedly save the day. And while I come bearing time-tested strategies and extensive experience, I’ve found that people are always more excited to develop and implement solutions when they can see the path for themselves.
In other words, I make superheroes, and you should, too!
Business Solutions in the Bronx
A few years ago, I worked as a project manager at a pharmaceutical company in the Bronx that specialized in making liquids, pastes, gels, etc. Though the machinery was working according to plan, it was immediately evident to me that there were inefficiencies on the human side of the process (read more about business is people-powered).
I could have immediately started firing off all my suggestions. Instead, I took the engineers to the floor and walked them around, inviting them to observe the processes at work. As we toured the sprawling warehouse, in between the rumbling machine lines, those engineers began to see what I saw.
We could then begin an engaging conversation about line balancing and SMED. We reviewed where they could cut down or eliminate waste. As we brainstormed together, I sensed a growing excitement—this was going to be their strategy, their solution. It had greater meaning and impact than if I had sequestered them in a board room and given them my plan.
In the end, I wasn’t the hero of the moment; those engineers were. They were able to approach the production supervisors and, in turn, empower them to observe and implement strategies.
This pharmaceutical company achieved a 16% improvement in throughput with the exact same people and machines. They also achieved a 50% reduction in waste and a 40% reduction in changeover time. The engineers saw the problems, and I empowered them to own the process, giving them the tools they needed to succeed. As the leader in your organization, this is your task, as well. When people see the challenges for themselves and develop their own solutions, then, supported by your guidance and resources, they’ll be excited about implementing those solutions.
The Qualities of a Superhero Staff
So, what does this look like in the day-to-day routine of your role? How can you build superheroes within your staff? In a series of studies performed by the Harvard Business Review, they found that empowering leaders:
- Delegate authority
- Ask for input
- Encourage autonomous decision-making
- Offer mentoring and support employee development
- Earn trust
- Reduce risks and instill a sense of safety
When this behavior is invested in a workplace, what can managers expect from superhero subordinates and staff? Those same studies revealed that empowered employees are:
- Highly creative, generating novel ideas and new ways of doing things
- Good organizational citizens, helping others in the workplace and volunteering for extra assignments
- Willing to support their organization outside of an official capacity
- Confident, with feelings of autonomy, control at work, and competency in their abilities
- Assured their work has value and meaning and believe they can make a difference
- Committed to meaningful goals
- Trusting of their leaders
- Supported and safe to take risks
Empowering leaders will see the tangible results of their efforts in the subsequent attitudes and actions of their staff and subordinates. Instead of trying to force a plan on a group of uninvested employees, everyone will be involved—observing problems, finding solutions, and adopting actionable change. As a result, efficiency and productivity become a group goal, ensuring long-term positive benefits.
Not only do you hope to secure the buy-in of the team, but you want to unlock the unique and individualized power of each team member. Identify their strengths and skills and bring those to the forefront. Not sure what each person’s strengths are? There are numerous ways to find out–from skills assessments to team-building activities. Every person on your team thinks of themselves as a Clark Kent. It’s your job to turn them into a Superman.
More than that, as you empower those beneath you, they can empower those beneath them. You model at the top what you want to see throughout the organization. Your teams are reflections of you and your leadership style.
And yet, there’s a weakness that could undo all these empowering efforts. It can keep your employees from ever reaching their problem-solving potential.
The Superhero’s Kryptonite
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as a glowing green space rock. The “kryptonite” disabling your staff is hard to detect… and it’s incredibly tempting to you, the leader.
I’m talking about micromanaging.
Have you ever uttered any of the following phrases?
“I have to do it myself, like everything else around here.”
“I’m the only one who can get the job done right. No one else can do it as well as me.”
“Without me, this place would crumble to the ground.”
“Why am I the only one around here who understands anything?”
Don’t worry, you don’t need to actually admit it out loud. But if you’ve ever said (or thought) any of these phrases over the course of your leadership, there’s a possibility you’ve fallen into micromanaging at some point. Nearly every leader has done it occasionally, and yet, we need to confront it if we’re going to empower our staff.
On the one hand, it can be extremely frustrating when we have a vision for a solution, and we see it fall short of its potential due to staff error. It’s also hard to take the time to empower others when the correct course of action is so obvious to us, and just a few specific commands (from which no one should deviate) could get the job done expediently.
But on the other hand, micromanaging will suck the power right out of your subordinates…like kryptonite to Superman. They will avoid taking risks; after all, why should they stick their neck out when it will never measure up to your standards? They will neglect their creativity; you already know exactly what you want. They won’t build company culture; they’ll head home as soon as they finish their work. And finally, they won’t trust the leadership.
If you empower your staff, creating safe and intentional spaces for them to develop skills and strengths, you do more than generate a productive and efficient organization in the present—you create a legacy that will outlast your tenure in the organization. Whether your subordinates stay with your company or move on to other locales, they will take with them all the positive results of empowerment. It’s a testament to your lasting impact.
As a consultant, I always ensure the benefits of my services last even after my contract is up. I leave a legacy at each business because I see the value of bringing others into the process with me. I know strategies will only be as effective as the people charged with implementing them. Together, we observe, we brainstorm, we come up with solutions, we implement them. Don’t just manage your subordinates. Empower a team of superheroes.
So, looking at your senior management team, what potential do you see in each person now? What could they look like in six months to a year if you empowered them to be their own superhero within the organization?