It has been said that leadership is the art of doing things with, and through, other people. The idea of a solo entrepreneur is a misnomer because others are always needed for movement to occur. The other person is often someone inside the organization, so developing people within the organization is vital.
Given this reality, leaders often talk about the process of delegation. It is, given what I just outlined above, necessary. But, the word “delegation” can have a negative connotation.
At one point in my life, for example, I was the person on the receiving end of someone else’s delegation. In various “intern” roles, this did not feel good. Over the course of a few summers, I did everything from making copies to completing useless Excel spreadsheets that made absolutely no sense to me.
Delegation at its worse feels like this, an unexplained task dump. But, even at its best, when the task delegated is meaningful and explained, it leaves something to be desired. What if something more than the task was delegated? What if the leader delegated both the task and the authority to make it happen? What if they empowered the individual to act on behalf of the organization?
Here is a brief example to help illustrate what I am getting at:
Delegation: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader defines what the goal is and then delegates the process of creating a strategy to the Salesperson. The Salesperson then asks for feedback regarding the strategy, makes adjustments, presents it to the customer, and then reports back to the Sales Leader.
Empowerment: Sales Leader asks Salesperson to fix pricing issue with Customer A. The Sales Leader then asks for action, promises support, but leaves all creation of the “how” to the Salesperson. This sounds similar, but with one major difference: the Salesperson has been empowered to define the goal. They are “empowered” to make the call, one way or another. In sports terms, they are now calling the plays as opposed to just “running the offense” dictated to them.
In the delegation scenario, the Salesperson needs a lot of hand-holding to get what they need done. Significantly less help is needed in the empowerment example, unless it is asked for. The key for the leader is to still check-in routinely. But, the goal is not to dictate the outcome. Rather, the goal is to offer support.
Before moving on, if any part of you (the leader) is hesitant to give this kind of authority to a team member, I would ask you to consider whether you have the right team member to begin with. Trust is essential to being someone worth following. Obviously, I would not recommend over-empowering someone lacking experience because to do so is not loving. But, the majority of your team members can take on more than we (leaders) allow them to. And this point leads to something I want to spend the rest of the post explaining:
Put succinctly, 1+1+1 is the formula for leadership development, or the process when one person builds into another person who then builds into another.
At its essence, empowerment frees one to discover how to accomplish whatever it is they are attempting to accomplish. This must involve complete freedom. What I mean is that they must decide how to go about doing whatever it is they have been empowered over. Or, using the example above, empowerment frees the Salesperson to make any call necessary, even one that differs from the leader’s point of view.
I want to be crystal clear on freedom because freedom forces accountability. Think about it, once empowerment occurs, the person is not simply doing a task, but in charge of a problem. They have both agency and authority. This forces them to lead the third “plus,” or 1+1+1, because they need the help, and support, of other people to move whatever it is forward. The Salesperson, for example, may need the help of Customer Service, Quality, or Production. So, they will need a “plus 1.”
Remember, leadership is the art of doing things with and through other people. The only way for the empowered person to move forward is by doing things with and through other people. What’s better is that this empowered person most likely does not have positional authority. Therefore, they have to develop, and use, real leadership skills. They have to earn the buy-in of key stakeholders, they have to solicit the help of others who are probably “busy” doing their own job-related tasks. All of this is met with resistance because anything worth doing always is. Overcoming this resistance helps them become a leader.
This may sound harsh, but only those worth following are going to have success in making things happen in this model. I do not say that to be mean, but rather, from what I have observed. Over the last year, I have been amazed at how certain people on our team have stepped up when empowered. I have watched two young Salespeople use their leadership skills to gain the buy-in of others throughout the organization—keep these two Salespeople in mind as I will return to them in the closing paragraph. I have also observed one of our Plant Managers take the next step in their development through empowering others to do things on their behalf. All of the sudden, this Manager has time to build into his team, rather than being the chief “doer.” The morale improvement is palpable.
Conversely, I have also seen others on our team struggle to move the ball when they are empowered. I have observed how the organization does not respond positively to them, which means that others often have to get involved to alleviate issues or bottlenecks that arise. To be 100% sure, and please do not miss this, these people are image-bearers of the God I follow. More so, and this is also key, they are treated with grace and respect throughout the organization. Their contribution to the team is also not questioned. In fact, the people I am thinking about do good work. The reality, however, is that they are simply not leaders, and not people others follow. Therefore, it is best for them to exist in the 1+1 world rather than trying to force them into the 1+1+1.
The majority of the readers of this blog are leaders themselves so let me close by clearly spelling a few things out so that we are all on the same page.
The most important thing to remember is that this is not some gimmick, or Jedi-mind trick. This is actually hard to do because you, the leader, have to give away something that you probably hold on to closely, namely authority. To be sure, without empowering others to make decisions, they are stuck in a world of simply doing tasks. I will go so far to say that promoting these kinds of people may eventually work, but you (the leader) are causing them all sorts of pain by robbing them of the opportunity to develop leadership skills before they have positional authority.
Leaders, I know it is does not feel good, but we have to give away power every single day. Let’s stop giving lip service to “working ourselves out of a job,” and let’s actually live it. If we do, our organizations will be thriving with new leaders.
Finally, remembering the two young Salespeople I mentioned a few paragraphs up: What I am describing above, as it relates to the 1+1+1 model, only addresses empowerment around decision making, and the development of leadership skills necessary to achieve whatever the goal is. The real magic, however, happens when the new leader starts building into others and starts learning how to help them develop more leaders. To keep with the formula, the real magic, then, is when 1+1+1 becomes 1+1+1+1. To this end, I have been challenging these young Salespeople to do exactly this. I hope to report back in the months to come as to their progress.
Let me close with some encouragement.
I did not come up with this idea on my own, but rather from the one I most follow. Matthew 28:18-20 outlines Jesus’ Great Commission, and regardless of what you think of him, it is hard to deny the impact his movement, and Church, has had on history.
This should encourage you because “making disciples that make disciples” overcame Rome, overcame countless cultural forces, and was initiated by outcast people of all genders and backgrounds.
Setting faith aside, the reality is that people can be empowered to do more than any of us think possible.
To that end, let’s expect the best of those we lead.
And let’s give them the opportunity to become leaders themselves.