Confidence is contagious. Great leaders know that they must themselves be confident in their work and vision, but they must also help their employees to feel confident in their own work. Managers control power; great leaders empower others, consciously sharing power to others so that the leader’s work becomes less burdensome and the organization benefits from many sources of original thinking. Great leaders empower others by sharing knowledge, giving autonomy, and stirring passionate, responsible thinking.
A landmark study in the Academy of Management Journal points to shared knowledge as one of the leadership qualities that foster greater efficacy and personal performance. Great leaders do not deliberately manipulate employees by withholding information that could provide guidance to better decision-making. While some information is sensitive (personnel, proprietary formulas, competitive strategies), a vast amount of information leaders often think is somehow “sensitive” is, in fact, not. A supportive leader, says the study, is someone who provides guidance to employees, treats them fairly, and recognizes the value of their contributions. Teams who operate from shared knowledge from the leader will in turn feel motivated to share their unique knowledge with the organization in a chain reaction of empowerment and productivity.
Share the knowledge your working team needs to do its work, and then step away. Granting autonomy is one of the best leadership qualities you can demonstrate. Employees who feel autonomous own their work and feel passionate about their goals.
The Harvard Business Review cites autonomy as one of the four ways to empower people. Two of the other three are corollaries:
- Give autonomy (power) to those who shown they can handle it
- Never second-guess teams’ decisions, since you were the one to give them both the knowledge and power to reach their decisions
Stirring Passionate, Responsible Thinking
Just as confidence is contagious, passion for achievement is, too. Passion must be fostered, though, because demonstrating passion for anything makes you vulnerable. You open up a part of yourself to outside scrutiny. Showing your own passion for your organization isn't enough, if you aren't empathetic to the passions of your employees. Passion is among the leadership qualities employees instinctively respect.
To foster followers' passions for your company’s work, build a favorable environment, said Jill Morin, former CEO of architectural firm Kahler Slater:
- Hire passionate people — When interviewing, ask potential hires how their passions outside of work (gardening, skiing, drawing, computers) will apply to the work you intend for them to do in-house
- Give opportunities — Ask employees to share something exciting or intriguing about their work in end-of-day shared sessions or pinned notes
- Nurture — Give time and space for passion to develop, and hold employees accountable for “creativity,” “passion,” or “original thinking” just as they would clock hours to particular clients
Remember that empowering others is a trust exercise, but it yields enormous results. When you consciously transfer power through the leadership qualities of sharing knowledge, giving autonomy and fostering passion, you get dedicated, passionate employees who are proud of their achievements.