Empowering Leaders Don’t Drive From The Backseat

Michael K Career Development, Leadership, Productivity 12 Comments

Commenting on his thoughts about leadership, Bill Gates once said, “As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” What a powerful statement from a man who not only led the world into a software revolution at Microsoft, but is now leading a philanthropic revolution of global proportions.

You and I may not be working on causes as massive as Gates’ work to eradicate malaria globally, but empowering others is no less important to our leadership as it is to his.

So exactly what is empowerment? Whenever we choose to empower, we are choosing to transfer our individual power over to someone else.

Let me try to explain what I mean through an analogy…

Think for a moment about a taxi ride you’ve taken in the past. First, before your journey began, you communicated to the taxi driver your desired destination. Second, by taking a taxi to begin with, you agreed to resource the taxi driver with funds that were aligned with the distance you needed to travel. As the taxi rider, you chose to transfer your individual power to drive over to the taxi driver. And for most of us at that point, what happened next was hopefully a non-eventful ride to our desired destination.

As you rode along in the taxi, you didn’t tell the taxi driver “turn right…no, take this highway…no…no slow down…now speed up…” If you did, we’d call you a “backseat driver” and backseat driving often leads to frustration for both parties involved.

Here’s the thing…Our followers don’t want “backseat leaders” either. It’s our job as leaders to communicate where we desire to be (i.e., vision). It’s also our job as leaders to resource our followers in order to arrive at that vision. Afterwards, it then becomes our responsibility to empower our followers and allow them to “drive” the team to the desired destination.

Since empowerment is such a critical skill to our effectiveness as leaders, I’d like to suggest three things that we should give to our followers to empower them:

1. Authority. To effectively empower our followers, we have to give them the authority to make the final decisions about “how” we will arrive at the vision. As this authority is transferred, it is critical that those in leadership publicly reinforce the authority given. This reinforcement helps to lend credibility to those who have been empowered.

2. Resources. It’s possible to give someone the authority to make a decision yet never give them the resources necessary to carry out those decisions. If we fail to provide our followers with the resources needed to carry out their decisions, we hinder their ability to arrive on time at the desired destination.

3. Feedback. Empowering leaders don’t simply give a follower authority and never touch base with them again. Empowering leaders do more than simply “wish” for their followers’ success. They create structures that allow followers to communicate challenges faced, progress made, and feedback along the way. Empowering leaders don’t simply watch the taxi as it drives off without them. They too are along for the journey with their followers.

Teams that achieve long term success are led by leaders who intentionally choose to empower others. In the long run, empowering others is what ensures that your leadership legacy lives on beyond you.

And at the end of the day, that’s the only measure of success that will stand the test of time.

So what are your thoughts? Do you agree with this list? Would you add or take away anything? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Michael KEmpowering Leaders Don’t Drive From The Backseat

Comments 12

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  2. Vonnesia Johnson

    I agree Mike I would add Encouragement to see how the team is doing and to them motivated is key.Appreciation letting people that i aprreciate what you do and how you do it goes along way. Recongition in public is essential a smart leader recognizes the small man on the bottom the middle, and the top are all essential to have a successful team. People who do thison purpose will always suceed!

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  4. Kennetha

    Trust is involved. You don’t know taxi driver but you trust him. If trust is violated, then it becomes coaching moment. After that, oh well.

    1. Michael K

      You’re so right! Trust & empowerment do go hand in hand. I think too your point about utilizing coaching in our leadership conversations is a big key; coaching helps us to grow & improve no matter what level of performance we’re currently on. Even pro athletes need coaches. Great insight!

  5. Cherinita

    If we would just start as leaders implementing that list alone we would have more effective leaders and creative outcomes. This was one of the most profound leadership analogies that you taught me (second to “The Doctor”- looking forward to you ‘blogging that out-hint-hint)! This is a GREAT blog! I am loving every entry because it has substance you can apply immediately! I just forwarded that color folder organization one to my inbox at work to meet me in my 2014 organized endeavors. Thanks for caring about not only our development but that we develop others!

    1. Michael K

      Cherinita, I am glad to hear that you feel the blog content is applicable and practical! And thanks for the hint about future posts to write :) I’ll keep that in mind! I really appreciate you following and sharing the content with others!!

    1. Michael K

      Ms. Wilma, that’s a great question! I believe that a leader’s enjoyment of the journey is tied to that leader’s trust in the driver…and nothing builds trust quicker than getting positive results. Also, I believe consistency is a key to a leader trusting someone they’ve empowered. We tend to feel more comfortable with track records that have proven consistent over time. Thanks for commenting!!

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