Ernest Hemingway an American Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature winning writer said, “Never confuse movement with action.” How do Hemingway’s words apply to the topic of leadership and empowerment? Movement is all about undertaking a direction. We might not have a clue as to how pursuing a given direction will drive us toward a positive outcome. It might be movement for the sake of movement with the hope that in the end, something good will become of it. Movement without empowerment seldom accomplishes worthwhile outputs from any production/service system. Action on the other hand is all about achievement and accomplishment. This is a continuous improvement if you will – something we all hope to make manifest in our roles as leaders. So how does empowerment relate to action? It is through the act of effective empowerment that we can achieve positive results.
Effective empowerment is best understood as the following formula – R+A1+A2 = Empowerment. Where R involves Responsibility, A1 comprises Authority and A2 encompasses Accountability. An effective leader knows that team members must first of all understand and be clear about the execution of their primary tasks. Try this – ask one of your respected team members to tell you what they view as their most important responsibility in his or her job. Now, ready yourself for the answer. Sometimes, as leaders, we find that our team members are not on the same page with us in terms of what they view as their key duties. If they are not, it is important that the effective leader coach explore how s/he can get team members in alinement with understanding their key responsibilities relative to the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization. Until team members fully understand and reach an agreement as to their primary responsibilities, they are not able to take effective action toward accomplishing them while utilizing proper A1 – Authority.
Authority properly imparted by the leader-simply means that team members are clear in terms of what they are able to execute and control in the way of decision making. What human, production, and financial resources are under their purview to utilize relative to their responsibilities? There is nothing worse than an employee who clearly understands his or her responsibilities but has no corresponding power or authority to carry them out.
And finally, all good leaders should understand that all the clarity in the world concerning responsibility and authority is useless without A2 – which involves Accountability. It seems that in some instances, holding team members accountable has fallen out of favor. As leaders just hope for the best as they do not want to challenge or offend anyone. If leaders are to impart decision-making Authority to team members, they must be willing to be held accountable for their decisions. This does not necessarily mean that the leader is punitive in reprimanding team members who do not effectively use their power. Instead, it means that when one is Accountable, s/he must be able to explain the rationale for the decision in light of the mission, goals, and objectives that are being pursued. And most importantly, be able to admit when actions are in error and then self-correct if necessary. All the good that comes from team members knowing their responsibilities and possessing the power and Authority to accomplish them quickly degrades into erratic outcomes without accountability. And this can be the bugaboo in any system, lack of follow through and consistency.
How will leaders know the signs that the R+A1+A2 = Empowerment formula is out of alinement? Telltale manifestations in the forms of disorder, confusion, commotion, and turmoil resulting in chaos are indications that either one or more elements of the Empowerment Formula are out of sync. To avoid this, the importance of being there for the team members when they need guidance and advice cannot be understated. Leaders who show the way through consistent action in words and deeds resonate with team members. Furthermore, when leader behaviors are consistent with what is said, this builds trust and a positive leader-coach relationship with team members. Ernest Hemingway was on to something when he said – “Never confuse movement with action.” Effective leaders know that all the movement that a leader can muster amongst his or her followers is worthless without true Empowerment. Hemingway also said, “Surround yourself with people who empower you to become better.” In this regard, it can be said, that when team members focus on becoming better via continuous improvement, so do the outputs of any production and service delivery system.