Balancing accountability and empowerment takes work. And the fine line between the two can be very tough to manage if not done correctly. This gray area is ambiguous and not always certain, it requires that you make decisions, have a clear opinion and drive forward. In an ideal setting, you would know your marching orders.
You get a clear view from the top of what the strategies are. You also get context, but with that there is a requirement that you’re funneling information back up the ladder to keep them informed of what’s going on.
The challenge for leaders is knowing what’s acceptable risk and failure and what’s gone too far. If you lay down the law every time someone makes a mistake, you’re undermining their ability to mark decisions. You have to have a tolerance for risk and failure, but that doesn’t mean you let laziness, indecisiveness or letting an employee go rogue without being held accountable.
As the leader, everyone is watching to see how you handle the first real mistake that happens once you let the reins go. This is the fine line of holding people accountable while trying to empower them. Empowering employees doesn’t mean ignoring them as the leader, but you do need to hold them accountable.
I see it all the time. Employees clamor for more empowerment, so the boss backs off and gives them the chance to shine on a project. The project lacks total clarity, but the boss has decided to let the employee fill that vacant space.
The employee can easily get stuck and spin in a vicious cycle. They’re scared to make a call, scared to move forward and they get paralyzed. The leader tries to help, keeps telling the same story, but the employee doesn’t get it. There’s no movement, and now it’s becoming an issue.
It’s easy for a leader to jump in and take charge at this moment, but the prudent decision isn’t to jump in and take over, it’s to set up checkpoints in order to review progress. The real challenge here is letting them continue, but now with some more visibility into the planning and the progress.
We can talk all we want about building cultures that are empowered and supportive, but there still must be a guiding hand that holds everyone accountable.
So if you ask for empowerment … know what you are asking for, and be ready for it.