CEO Insider

What You Stand to Gain by Empowering Your Employees, and How to do It

We worked with two leaders who have young workforces, mostly people in their mid-twenties just starting their careers. These two leaders were all about giving their employees more to do and supporting and coaching them along. Empowering their staff was part of their leadership DNA—and it was clear that their employees loved working for them.

The two leaders acknowledged it wasn’t easy: “Leading this crew is not for the faint of heart! They’re always asking for more, and they all want to move up faster.” The two leaders had realized they needed to establish some guardrails for their young employees to help them slow down. They created a process to help their team members triage problems, thinking through the degree of difficulty and also the degree of unintended consequences.

Rather than rushing forward with an idea, employees had to consult with the leaders to ensure they weren’t walking into something that would likely blow up on them. The leaders would ask them questions like, “Tell me how you’re going to work through this challenge.” Then, “Okay, now what happens if it doesn’t turn out like Plan A? What will you do then?” The thoughtful interplay helped their employees envision how their solutions could unfold over time. 

It took effort, time, and a lot of conversation—but these two leaders were developing a team of motivated, thoughtful, reflective workers who took ownership over their tasks and had real buy-in. Imagine what an empowered staff like that could accomplish for your organization.

An Atmosphere of Trust

Part of what these two leaders did well was that they demonstrated trust in their employees. An atmosphere of trust is critical for efficient communication and flourishing creativity. Why? Because empowering your employees helps foster high, psychological safety.

When employees don’t feel that safety, they can’t perform at their best levels; they’re too afraid to take risks and incur criticism. But when a leader is willing to let go and trust their employees, that leader sends a clear message that they want to help their staff become their very best selves. As a result, employees feel supported rather than threatened—which means they feel safe to perform at their best.

Communication opens up in an atmosphere that feels safe; employees feel comfortable exchanging ideas and acknowledging when they’re struggling. Mistakes are inevitable as you work to empower your employees—after all, they’re learning to do something new. But when there’s safety, those mistakes aren’t hidden; they’re discussed and analyzed. Employees feel enough safety to have an authentic conversation with you: “I know you’ve given me full trust, and I deeply appreciate that. Can I run a few things by you? I’m concerned about this particular component, and I don’t want to mess this up.” With trust and safety, dialogue becomes richly productive.

A Sense of Ownership

Employees will experience a deeper sense of ownership and self-efficacy when they are empowered. We often joke that no one ever washes their rental car. Why would they? It’s not their car. That’s the difference between a “renter” and an owner.

If employees are micromanaged, they get the message that their own ideas and efforts aren’t wanted—so why bother trying so hard? But when leaders push decisions and authority further down in the organization, they allow people to feel a greater sense that this is their organization. 

By deepening your employees’ sense of ownership, you’re going to see higher levels of performance and deeper levels of accountability. You also promote people’s confidence in themselves: “Wow—my leader believes I’m capable of taking on this project. That’s awesome! I’m going to give this my all.”

More Time to Think Strategically

Perhaps best of all, you stand to directly benefit when you empower your employees. When you spend less time doing tasks that other people can do, you gain more time to think strategically and reflectively. You have the space to research the needs of your new role, to systematically consider opportunities, to think more broadly about the future. You’re able to do the kind of evaluative reflection that enables you to improve things and make them better. Rather than reactively putting out fires, you can ask proactive questions to plan for the future. 

You also experience the fulfillment of impacting a future generation of leaders. Younger workforces, in particular, desire the opportunity to be stretched and promoted. By empowering them, you’re not only increasing their job satisfaction, but you’re also helping them grow. 

Consider how fulfilling it would be to measure your legacy by the number of people you helped grow, develop, and access opportunities. When you delegate well, you can actually change lives. You help empower others to discover and achieve their fullest potential. That must be one of the most rewarding investments you can have in life!

It’s Worth it!

There’s no question that empowering others takes work. It takes patience to coach your employees in their development and progress. You’ll likely have to mentor them through making some mistakes. It often requires creativity to seek out new resources or training. You must humble yourself enough to acknowledge that other people could do your old job well and understand that you need to grow in new areas as well. 

But consider the profound rewards that come when you do.

You’ll enjoy higher retention because employees like working in an environment where they feel trusted and empowered. You’ll also secure greater buy-in when you allow employees to own their vision for how to fulfill their job requirements versus if you were to micromanage their every move. And, by taking the time to train your staff well—by ensuring they understand the vision of the organization and the goals you’re working towards—you’ll create more thoughtful and reflective employees. 

The investment is worth it! 

For more advice on how to empower your employees, you can find Changing Altitude on Amazon or at www.ChangingAltitude.co


Written by Dr. Dennis O’Neil and Greg Hiebert.

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Dr. Dennis O’Neil and Greg Hiebert
Dr. Dennis O’Neil has decades of applied leadership and teaching experience as an executive coach with leadershipForward, a professor of strategic leadership, and a trusted advisor to CEOs, public and non-profit boards, senior government and military officials, and multinational organizations. Dennis combines his experiences with leading research to focus on the client’s most compelling needs.


Dr. Dennis O’Neil is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow Dr. Dennis O’Neil on LinkedIn. Greg Hiebert is the co-founder of leadershipForward and the bestselling author of You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have. He’s served as a leader and mentor for an eclectic mix of organizations like the United States Military Academy, the United States Army, McKinsey & Company, and the Yale School of Management. His coaching approach incorporates deep levels of authentic and courageous dialogue to create conditions for personal and organizational transformation.


Greg Hiebert is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow Greg Hiebert on LinkedIn.