It sounds good doesn’t it? Like something we would want in our organisations. Something worth striving for. Aiming for.
We need to empower our people, says the books, the articles, the leadership courses.
We say that empowerment is something we want. But whilst it sounds good, some managers, some organisations, some cultures, don’t really want it at all, underneath all of the positive words. They think they do, say that do, maybe then even believe they do. But they can’t live it, support it, make the change.
Because too many of us, deep down, like to make the decisions. Because we think we have all the answers because we’ve been there, done that, own the experience t-shirt. Because we think we know best. And in HR particularly, we are used to being the fixers. And this means that we are part of the problem.
If you really want empowerment, then first there must be trust. There must be a willingness to relinquish control. But most of all, we must get out of the habit of trying to fix everything, for everyone.
We all do it. Someone comes to us with a problem. We go straight into fix mode. Offering solutions, advice, wisdom, experience. As managers and leaders we can sometimes take on roles without even realising it. The parent, the advisor, the agony aunt, the solver of all the problems. In HR, we do everything we can to spot potential problems and fix them before they even arise. We write policies, issue guidance, put procedures in place. We prescribe how situations should be dealt with. Quote the precedent of how we dealt with it last time.
We do it for the best of reasons, but with the worst of outcomes.
Because we take away the responsibility, the ownership, the opportunity to learn and grow. We take away the person’s chance to think for themselves.
So here’s the thing. I’m a fixer. My CV is littered, right to the start of my career in HR, with roles where fixes were needed, challenges abounded. I was required to solve stuff, improve stuff, fix stuff. I did it. And I am still doing it. I have a medical bag in the office in case anyone feels ill. I always have an extra pen in case someone needs one. I’ve always got a tissue. I’ve always got the answer, or so I think. It happens at home and it happens at work. So I’m going to try to be better. To coach more than I tell. To listen more than I talk. To question more than I impart.
If you genuinely want empowered people, a culture in which people will take on the responsibility, make the decision, fix it for themselves, then first, we must put away our toolbox. Even if we think we know best.
Because as leaders, we can’t fix everything, and nor should we even try.