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Empowering Decision-Making in a Directive World

Recently, I had a conversation with someone working on how to shift their leadership style away from fixing or solution-seeking to the point of self-sabotage. As we talked about how to “take off the red cape”, she had this revelation: “…all I have to do then is give them the confidence to come up with their own solution.”

Without hesitation, I replied, “nope!” She was taken aback at first until I pressed, “what if instead of ‘giving’ them the confidence, you inspire them to believe in themselves? You cannot give someone confidence—they must build it on their own. That will lead them to empowerment.” The “whoa” that followed was audible…

Trying to give someone confidence sounds noble, but it is a Level 4 leadership strategy that implies “I can fix your confidence.” Unfortunately, it’s easy to do this the wrong way. For instance, I had a supervisor in the early years of my first career who would answer staff questions with “what do you think?” The tone was snarky, despite the intention to get people to think for themselves. Worse, the repetition of this act eroded trust in that supervisor and felt like an abdication of support rather than an impetus to arrive at one’s own conclusion. The result was the staff became fearful of asking for help, judgment soared, morale sunk, and a greater willingness to make mistakes without accountability became the norm.

In a world that often values directives and top-down decision-making, empowering individuals to make informed choices is not only a leadership skill but a catalyst for growth and innovation. Embracing the power of critical thinking is key to navigating this landscape, unlocking the potential for more effective and empowered decision-making. Here are some considerations:

1. Cultivate a Culture of Trust. Building a foundation of trust is crucial for empowering decision-making. Leaders must create an environment where team members feel secure expressing their opinions and taking calculated risks. Open communication and transparent leadership are key components of establishing trust.

2. Emphasize the Importance of Critical Thinking. In a directive world, where commands often take precedence, highlight the significance of critical thinking. Help your team understand that thoughtful analysis and reasoning are not only encouraged but essential for making sound decisions that align with organizational goals.

3. Create a Supportive Environment. Establish a work environment that encourages open communication and values diverse perspectives. Ensure team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions and engaging in critical discussions. A supportive atmosphere fosters the confidence needed to contribute to decision-making processes.

4. Provide Clear Decision-Making Parameters. Empower your team by defining clear decision-making parameters. While directives may exist, outlining the boundaries within which individuals can exercise critical thinking allows for autonomy while ensuring alignment with broader organizational objectives.

5. Encourage Questions and Curiosity. Foster a culture of curiosity. Encourage team members to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek deeper understanding. Critical thinking thrives in an environment where curiosity is valued, leading to well-rounded perspectives that contribute to informed decision-making.

6. Provide Clear Objectives. Empower your team by setting clear and achievable objectives. When team members understand the organization's goals, they are better equipped to make decisions aligned with the overall vision. Clarity minimizes ambiguity and allows for more confident and informed choices.

7. Delegate Responsibility. Empowerment flourishes when responsibility is delegated effectively. Provide team members with opportunities to take ownership of projects and decisions. This not only enhances their skills but also instills a sense of accountability, fostering a proactive approach to decision-making.

8. Celebrate Successes and Learn from Failures. Acknowledge and celebrate successful decisions made by individuals within the team. Equally important is learning from failures. Create a culture that views failures as stepping stones to growth, encouraging team members to reflect on and extract valuable lessons from their experiences.

9. Foster Collaboration. Empowering decision-making is not a solitary endeavor. Foster a collaborative environment where team members can seek input and collaborate on decisions. Collective intelligence often leads to more well-rounded and effective choices.

10. Provide Timely Feedback. Feedback is a powerful tool for growth. Provide timely and constructive feedback on decisions made by team members. This not only helps them refine their decision-making skills but also reinforces a culture of continuous improvement.

Remember the leader from the beginning of this post? In the end, the conversation’s takeaway was leading someone to empowerment is a Level 5 leadership strategy: one where peace and acceptance is generated by seeing the opportunity in someone’s potential rather than seeking a problem to be fixed. There is a deeper meaning and professional growth found amid the discomfort of not being sure of what to do.

Empowering decision-making is a dynamic process that requires a commitment to fostering a culture of trust, inclusivity, and continuous learning. By implementing these strategies, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams, driving innovation, and achieving sustainable success in an ever-changing business landscape.


Ready to RESET (Review/Energize/Strategize/Empower/Take Action)? Get started today and find out the power in your leadership levels with an Energy Leadership Index assessment. It’s like a credit report for your attitudes about work and life.

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