Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

April 1999
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Leaders Enable Others to Act – Part 2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

According In “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner demonstrate that leaders:

  1. Challenge the process.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Enable others to act.
  4. Model the way.
  5. Encourage the heart.

3. Leaders enable others to act (continued).

In organizations that rely on external power and control to make people perform, the constituents rarely achieve their best. The capacity of individuals and organizations to excel grows when the people do things because they want to, and not because they have to. When people are mere powerless pawns, they feel weak and insignificant. Empowered people, however, possess greater confidence, determination and effectiveness.

Exemplary leaders accomplish great things by enabling others to take ownership of and responsibility for the organization’s success.

Leaders have a choice: they can hold onto their power and use it purely for selfish ends, or they can give their power away to others. Servant leaders who take the power that flows to them and connect it to others, become power generators from which their constituents draw strength. The five leadership essentials of sharing power with others are:

a. Give power away. Paradoxically, leaders become more powerful when they give their own power away. Leadership power is not a fixed and limited sum to be hoarded and grudgingly divided up only when absolutely necessary. A leader’s power is not reduced when he empowers others. Organizationally, power actually expands and multiplies when it is shared with others. When people have responsibility and genuine influence, their commitment to the organization and its success drastically increases. The key to unleashing an organization’s potential to excel is putting the power in the hands of the people who perform the work. Thus leaders must trust and respect their constituents, and they must know their people well enough to empower them appropriately.

b. Provide choices. Good leaders will enlarge their constituents’ spheres of influence, and will provide them with greater decision-making authority and responsibility. They will remove or reduce unnecessary approval steps, eliminate as many rules as possible, increase people’s flexibility regarding processes, support the exercise of independent judgment, encourage creative solutions to problems, define jobs more broadly (as projects, not tasks), provide the resources necessary for success, and support freedom of organizational communication (both vertically and horizontally).

c. Develop competence. If people are to succeed in their new and increasing responsibilities, they need to develop their capacities. Leaders must invest in developing their people’s skills and competencies.

d. Assign critical tasks. People’s increased sphere of influence ought to involve something relevant to the most pressing concerns and core issues of the organization. We do our best when our work is critical to success. Empowerment should be genuinely significant and not merely a token acquiescence to the latest management fad. Moreover, leaders should regularly inform their constituents regarding the organization’s performance and the evolving challenges it faces.

e. Offer visible support. It’s who you know that counts. Leaders should assist their people in making connections and building strong relationships with others who can help them accomplish their tasks – both inside and outside the organization. Facilitating this networking is empowering. Also, by making visible heroes and heroines of others, a leader will increase those people’s power as well as build a stronger bond between himself and them.

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