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Empowerment - the Next Steps

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Last month I wrote about the prerequisites for empowerment, and promised that I would continue the conversation.  This topic naturally leads me to the biggest stumbling block that most leaders face on the road to empowerment - letting go. I bet anyone in a leadership role out there will know what I mean by ‘letting go’, but just in case it isn’t clear what I mean, then let me give you a quick and very real example:

John is a manager in a small manufacturing organization who entered the organization as a machinist. Because he was a very good ‘find’ for his organization, he was quickly recognized for quality and high-output work.  It wasn’t long before John’s boss recognized John as a person of potential. Within a year John got his first promotion to area supervisor. True to the expectations of his boss, John became a good supervisor for his people and within another two years he received another promotion to section manager.  Along the way, John started to realize that he was working longer and longer hours, and working more at home. His dedication was paying off, and as a result, parts of his personal life began to suffer. Missing family events and being tired all the time was losing its shine for John, and soon all aspects of work and personal life started to suffer. At work, he seemed to have less and less time for person-to-person contact, he was distracted, and it seemed his life was becoming one meeting after another. What he had sought to become as a leader was getting lost in the bustle of work and constant demands on his time. It got so bad that John started to feel like he would soon have to make choices to either let his work suffer, sacrifice his home life, or be prepared to adopt a lifestyle of unending chaos.

This story likely sounds familiar to the typical person in a responsible position. We have all experienced some version of this. It is not a good feeling, and obviously when things reach this kind of tipping point, we have to learn to let things go, or else. 

No one told us

We would be overestimating the normal organization if we said that at each step of success we would get a coach to help us maintain balance in our lives. Consequently, every person who takes on growing responsibilities in an organization needs to figure it out for themselves to large degree. With luck, they do it before they fail in reaching their next promotion due to overwork, or hit the skids in their lives due to burnout.

What all high achievers believe that they are good at

Having spent much of my life hanging with or being one of these successful people, I recognized a common trait.  The trait is the ability to juggle many balls without dropping any. This love of ‘lots of activity’ is common, and truthfully a real pride point for most of us. It is also our greatest liability because many of us simply don’t know where the point of productivity and effectiveness turns to burnout and failure.

Empowerment allows you to accomplish two things at once!

Empowerment Tip #1 – Believe that everyone wants to feel success and will exceed your expectations if allowed to. 

Empowerment Tip #2 – You, as a leader, want to let others feel success like you do.

Where do you begin if you “get” the two tips above?

Start by looking at the work you are doing that others might benefit from if they did this same work. For instance, are you creating documents or schedules that others might benefit from if they simply did them? Are there projects or meetings that you could give to others that they could learn from? Are there tasks or repetitive routines that you are doing that someone on your team could take from you that would allow you to have more of the time you want as a leader?

Identify the opportunities to delegate and empower your team

Keep a log for a week, marking your activities out in 30-minute increments, and look at what you are actually doing. What are you spending your time on that is not critical to your success, but has somehow landed on your shoulders. Make a list of things that are not critical to your responsibilities – using the questions above, list out what you can delegate (if you let things go!) to members of your team.

The art of delegation

Follow this easy, five-step process and your delegations will get better and better:

  1. Determine what it is you want to delegate – start small and after you have looked at the work you can move from your plate to theirs, write down exactly what it is. E.g., Organize and build the agenda for the weekly staff meeting, invite guests by email and set time limits.
  2. Determine who to delegate to – this is tricky one. Don’t always lean into the people who do the best work for you. Find someone who can gain from the experience, or someone who needs to be challenged. This is a good way to get the underachievers to become successful, and it is also a way to reward your high achievers for their initiative. Don’t leave anyone out. E.g., Donald is a guy who is asking to do more and has been a little bit bored lately and you are starting to worry about his mistakes.
  3. Build the delegation plan together – This is the collaborative part. Come with what you want to delegate in writing as best you can, and together decide what the outcome should be and the timeline you would like to see it accomplished. Give time for questions from the person you are delegating to, and stand ready to put in a little time filling in knowledge gaps as they surface. E.g., Donald, here is the schedule from last week and I would like to transfer this scheduling process to you. Each week the schedule needs to be complete by Thursday for the next week. What can I provide to you that will assure that you feel the full responsibility and have all the knowledge you need to be successful. We will also need to set some check ins for progress for the first couple of rounds.
  4. Monitor progress – This is where the person doing the delegating places critical check in dates and times to make sure the person who is being delegated to understands that they will follow-up. It is also an opportunity to give encouragement and support if necessary.
  5. Reward successful execution – there is an old say “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” In this case we are talking about a public thank you or notes in a file or simply a thank you to the person with sincere appreciation.

Practice makes perfect

Delegation, like everything of value in life, is not easy and takes practice. The good news is that if you practice this consistently your people will feel empowered, and you will start to free yourself up to spend precious time with family and friends. More good news, you will be seen as someone who trusts and believes in their people, and people will flock to work with “that” leader.

Final Note

Letting go does not mean you relinquish all control or have no input! As you see in the steps above, you as leader and coach remain involved, and there are very specific checks and balances along the way to ensure quality is maintained. Delegating is not a dump-and-run, but rather a shift of the task work from your shoulders to a staff member’s. You remain a coach and guide through the entire process. Positive results include more satisfied and happier staff members, and the ability for you to grow more appropriately in your role as a leader (and get your home life back!).

Update: The Book

Last month we let you all know that Lorraine and I have been working with Author’s Coach and Editor, Noelle Castle, over the last several months on a book to help guide organizations on culture and empowerment. As we began to delve into the topic of empowerment (still a doozy and of such value) as our focus, we realized we kept coming back to the topic of organizational culture. We are excited to be narrowing our focus for our (first) book, and we hope you will stay tuned for future updates! It’s a most exciting project, and we can’t wait to see where it leads us!

If you are out there reading, have a great summer and I look forward to hearing from you!!!

Warmest regards

4.5 (4)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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Love this topic...well written Ralph!!


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