Psychologically empowered employees believe 1) their work is personally important, 2) they have the ability to successfully perform tasks, 3) they have the freedom to choose how to initiate and carry out tasks, and 4) their personal behavior at work contributes to important outcomes. (Spreitzer, 1995). This sense of meaning, competence, self-determination, and impact enables employees to perform their work with initiative and persistence.
An exceptional recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal showed that psychological empowerment had a significant effect on employee creativity. Empowered employees demonstrated higher intrinsic motivation and were also more engaged in the creative process of identifying problems, searching for information, and generating unique ideas to solve problems.
Some would argue that not all jobs require creativity. But all jobs encounter problems, and when those problems inevitably occur, it’s both more efficient and more effective to rely on the creativity of your employees to help plan and implement the solutions. Empowered employees improve your ability to excel as a leader.
But some employees want to be empowered more than others, a finding supported by this study. This study demonstrated that when an employee’s identification with empowerment is low, the empowering leader can help employees in four ways:
1. Enhance the meaningfulness of work
– Help employees understand the purpose, goals, and objectives of the company
– Help employees understand the importance of their work to the overall effectiveness of the company
2. Foster participation in decision making
– Consult employees on decisions that affect them
– Share decision making responsibility with employees
3. Express confidence in high performance
– Let employees know you believe they have the ability to improve even when they make mistakes
– Let employees know you believe they can handle demanding tasks
4. Provide autonomy from bureaucratic constraints
– Allow employees to make important decisions quickly to satisfy customer needs
– Keep rules and regulations simple and allow employees freedom in the way they perform the job
Empowering leadership starts between your ears. The assumptions you make about your employees drive your behavior toward them. Behave toward them in ways that will change their assumptions about your role and their personal role in the work that they do. Help them behave in ways that conform to these new and more empowered assumptions.
Empowering leadership can create empowered employees, and empowered employees can create better solutions to your shared problems. Give yourself permission to make your job easier and your organization more successful by changing the way you think about your employees and your role as a leader.
Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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