Characteristics & benefits of the empowering leadership style
Leaders play a pivotal role in empowering people. They communicate the company’s vision, develop their team’s abilities, and ensure everyone at the table has a voice.
But leadership empowerment isn’t just a philosophy — it’s a skill set managers and team leads need to cultivate. These abilities allow them to support employees to the best of their ability and avoid common management pitfalls.
That’s why we created this guide about the empowering leadership style with an in-depth look at its advantages and common features. Plus, we included some tips on how to develop empowering leadership skills within your company.
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What is empowering leadership?
Empowering leadership is the practice of encouraging employees to manage themselves instead of supervising them directly. But even though this strategy supports independence, leaders still play an active role. Sociological studies break empowering team members into four distinct practices:
- Showing reports how their work fits into the big picture
- Creating opportunities for growth and improving a team’s abilities
- Giving employees more decision-making power
- Highlighting people’s strengths and their work’s impact
Benefits of the empowering leadership style
The empowering leadership style has many advantages for employees, management, and entire organizations when implemented correctly:
- Stronger relationships — A recent psychological study found a link between the empowering leadership style and feelings of trust toward management.
- Higher productivity levels — The same study found empowered employees were more motivated and able to focus on their work more effectively.
- Better organizational resilience — When your people perform well, so does your company. That means more revenue and, therefore, more profits to invest back into your staff and your business.
- More job satisfaction — Team members are happier when they can achieve good results and enjoy healthy professional relationships.
- More innovation — A psychological study by Havard Business Review discovered teams were more creative when they worked for empowering leaders.
- Lower turnover rates — Better employee-manager relationships increase retention. SHRM found 91% of people who indicated their workplace was good said they could trust their team leader.
- A positive workplace culture — When your management team fosters employee empowerment, they also show they value trust, independent thought, and collaboration.
Characteristics of the empowering leadership style
To empower your people, it’s not enough to simply hand over more responsibility. Psychological studies show this can even have a detrimental effect, as employees might experience higher stress levels and develop negative attitudes toward management without the support they need. Instead, your organization needs to show leaders how to coach and mentor their teams by helping them develop the skills below.
“Leadership is difficult. I found it quite intimidating when I first started this role. But the good news is that leadership is also a skill you can learn. You can learn how to coach, listen, lead difficult conversations, drive a feedback culture, or empower your team. If you train leaders with these skills early on, it has a massive impact on an organization — from employee performance to talent retention."
— Stefan Lülf, Country Manager DACH at Lepaya
1. Prioritize communication & transparency
One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to relay information between reports and senior management. This is essential for building trust, getting employees’ opinions, and ensuring everyone has access to knowledge resources. So, leaders must be effective communicators to empower their teams.
- Overcommunicate — Encourage staff to communicate openly and to share any questions, feedback or concerns. Implement a messaging system like Slack for quick updates, arrange regular check-ins to discuss new ideas, and organize social events to get to know colleagues on a personal level.
- Follow meeting agendas and templates — Let employees know the importance of meetings and how they’ll be involved by sharing agenda points in advance. Then, use 1:1 meeting templates to help structure the conversation and ensure you don’t miss anything.
- Develop listening techniques — Learn how to encourage staff to speak more instead of accidentally interrupting or talking over them. For example, active listening involves staying present in the conversation and paraphrasing what reports said to confirm you understood them. Or rephrasing questions like, “Do you have any feedback?” as “What’s your feedback?” can generate more responses.
2. Delegate with intention
Another characteristic of empowering leaders is the ability to delegate well. That means assigning reports tasks based on who is the best fit for the job and whether it’ll help them develop professionally. It also means giving people full responsibility and decision-making power while offering valuable support and guidance.
- Explain your rationale — If team members don’t understand why you assigned them a task, they may wrongly assume you’re simply offloading your workload. So, explain why you chose them and how the assignment can help them develop professionally.
- Create a roadmap — Learning pathways let you organize your people’s development into a series of steps. Then, you can show them where certain tasks fit into their overall progress.
- Focus on the outcome — To avoid micromanaging, state what you’d like each team member to achieve rather than dictating their approach to reaching those goals.
3. Involve employees in decisions
Empowering leaders not only give people authority over their work, but also involve them in higher-level company decisions. This shows you value their opinions and trust their judgment. Team members often have more intimate knowledge about internal happenings like deliverables and team collaboration than senior management, they probably have valuable insights your company can benefit from.
- Leadership committees — Create a group with representatives from different departments and levels of your company to discuss issues. This committee should fully represent your people and understand what affects team members most.
- Conduct surveys — It’s challenging to organize meetings where everyone gets a vote on important matters, especially for large companies. But surveys can tell you what your people think and guide decision-making processes. Just be sure you act on survey results, or employees may start considering them meaningless gestures.
4. Remove obstacles to success
One way to give your employees more independence while achieving consistent results is by eliminating their roadblocks. So, empowering leaders excel at identifying and solving problems. These might include inefficient business processes and challenging clients or could even account for more personal matters.
- Check-in regularly — Simply talking to reports will uncover many of their personal and professional hurdles. You might find simple solutions like switching your team to software with more integrations so they can instantly sync data instead of entering it manually.
- Review standard operating procedures (SOPs) — Frequently check departmental and organizational processes to see if they can be optimized. Be sure to ask team members if they have any suggestions or requests.
5. Offer guidance
Giving employees autonomy doesn’t mean making them fend for themselves. Leaders should still support their reports by helping them set goals, explaining best practices, and making themselves available to help. They should also provide clear rules and expectations so staff can enjoy the freedom to make decisions while still receiving guidance when they need it.
- Clarify boundaries — Define when employees have authority and when they should consult a manager. For instance, you can tell team members they have creative control over a project but will need your final approval before it goes to the client.
- Agree on success indicators — People find it easier to manage themselves if they can assess when a task is going well. Think of success indicators such as planned hours versus time tracked or the number of milestones achieved in a week.
6. Create growth opportunities
Sometimes, employees don’t have the experience or skills to complete an assignment unsupervised. Rather than instantly taking control, the best leaders find ways to give power back to their people. They might offer relevant training or turn the situation into a learning opportunity so the team member can handle similar work alone in the future.
- Share constructive feedback — Telling staff how they can improve requires empathy, or you’ll make them feel defensive instead of showing them an opportunity. Empowering leaders should also learn the best techniques for how to give feedback, for example, preparing employees for tricky conversations in advance and sharing actionable recommendations.
- Encourage team members to push themselves professionally — Sometimes, it’s best to encourage people to step outside their comfort zone and see how they perform. Even if the task at hand is challenging, if it's achievable, your team will feel accomplished when they complete it and they will learn in the process.
7. Highlight the impact of employees’ work
Understanding the significance of their work helps staff feel more empowered. That means leaders need to show where the team's work fits in the bigger picture, track progress, and celebrate them publicly when they achieve great results.
- Set goals — Help employees create objectives that align with your overall business strategy. This will help them see how their work contributes to your company’s success.
- Conduct performance reviews — Giving staff consistent updates on what they’re doing well will help them feel empowered. Learn the best performance review tips to keep assessments constructive and informative.
- Recognize and reward employees — One simple way to show people the value of their work is to praise them. Recognition is so empowering that it makes team members 73% less likely to feel burned out.
Develop a healthy, empowered workplace culture with Leapsome
Empowering leaders can’t exist in a vacuum — they must be part of a culture that wants to promote growth, share knowledge, and empower its employees. That means developing an empowering leadership style throughout your organization and fostering a positive work environment go hand in hand.
You can help leaders empower their teams by using Leapsome to manage all your people enablement processes. Our platform lets you create pathways for growth with its Learning module and show team members their progress with Reviews. We also have a Goals module to provide employees with structure and help them understand the purpose of their work. And last but not least, use our Surveys, Meetings, and Instant Feedback modules to encourage and support communication throughout your business.
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If you’re unsure how to work on empowering your reports, start by using this Leadership Style Quiz from Lepaya to explore where your skills need further development.
Although empowering leaders can spur independence and creativity, they won’t be as effective in isolation. Empowerment has to become one of your company’s core values for you to see its full benefits. To achieve this, integrate it into your culture and strategies. You can read Leapsome’s article on the value and methods of employee empowerment for guidance.
Empowerment is most potent when you also focus on engaging and enabling team members. Our guide on effective employee enablement will show you how to help your people reach their full potential. We also have a free downloadable resource on engagement surveys, so you can uncover your team’s key motivators and help them connect with their work.