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Empowering Leadership Stage Three – Replacing Hierarchies With Self-Directed Teams

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In the previous few articles we have discussed the importance of empowering your team, and the three distinct stages you can employ to achieve this. This article looks in more detail at the final stage – replacing hierarchies with self-directed teams.

This is where decision-making becomes the responsibility of the team, or even the individual team members. It is possible for this to happen when each team, and the individuals within that team, become the problem solvers. 

Building self-directed teams is critical to great leadership. As a leader, you want to create more time for yourself. In order to free your time, other people within your organisation must be able to solve problems. By empowering individuals and teams to make decisions responsibly, they will have the confidence and the ability to solve problems and become self-directed [1].

Set The Level Of Responsibility

The first thing you need to do is to set the level of responsibility, so that they have the freedom to make decisions within those parameters. One point that needs to be emphasised extremely clearly throughout the process is that you are not telling them how to do their job. You are guiding them on how to manage their roles, so that they can solve the problems they would otherwise bring to you.

By this stage, they already know your purpose and values, your desired outcomes, and your vision. You’ve already created autonomy through setting boundaries. 

Empowerment comes from teaching others the things they can do to become less dependent on you. They do need to be accountable for their areas of responsibility, and as such, they may feel more comfortable if they are able to come to you for validation. 

If they have identified a problem and come up with a solution, it can be helpful to all the relationships for them to check that you’re happy with the solution. It reassures you as a leader and builds the confidence of the individual and the team when everyone knows that good decisions are being made. 

To have people come to you with solutions is entirely different than having people coming to you with problems. It is an inherently important part of creating a rich culture. You are building independence.

Don’t Just Do Something – Stand There

This means that you have to learn when not to step in, so that someone else can act. It may require making a conscious effort not to act, but it is essential that you extend this trust to your people. Empowering leadership is not primarily about empowering yourself. It is about empowering others. It is through this empowerment of others that you, as a leader, strengthen your power. 

It’s very hard to give up control when you’re really, really good at what you do. Of all the qualities that a leader needs to possess, empowering others is, in my view, the most important. 

The fear of relinquishing control is often at the foundation of the mistakes that leaders make. Rather than protecting yourself by retaining control, you ultimately put yourself in a weaker position, for the simple reason that empowered teams can do more than empowered individuals.

By following the three stages to building proactive teams of empowered people, you harness the power of many. These ideas are not new. The principle of the mastermind goes back to 1928, when Napoleon Hill wrote The Law Of Success, in which he states, ‘The group helps to organise useful knowledge, creating a virtual encyclopedia from which each member can draw information’ [1]. 

This is why I am launching a series of mastermind programs, so that business leaders can empower each other, and then take their understanding and knowledge back to their teams, and, in turn, empower the people within their own organisations.

The Steps To Creating Self-Directed Teams

Each step to creating self-directed teams is so important, because people don’t start out knowing how to work in self-directed teams. They need to be taught. It’s important to realise this. 

It is also important to realise that there may be times when people are not comfortable with the change that you are instigating. Dissatisfaction is a natural part of the process. Your people may not want to make decisions, because when they make decisions, then they are accountable. 

You need to recognise this, and persist, but you also need to recognise when someone can’t be empowered. Some people simply do not have the leadership qualities necessary to step up.

Regardless of this, everyone has to be trained in team skills. Everyone! People-skills need to be developed, because this is how great conversations are created. You need to find the ways that you can reach different groups of people so that you can connect with them in a way that has relevance and meaning in their lives and roles. 

In order to make it work, commitment and support have to come from the top. They have to come from you. You can’t just show them the system and then tell them to get on with it. You have to get involved. It is an investment of your time and energy, because once you have empowered your teams and helped them reach the stage where they are self-directed, your workload will have shifted dramatically, and you can focus on leading your organisation, rather than micromanaging teams.

Finally, teams with information and skills can replace the old hierarchy. Essentially, it’s succession planning. The biggest problem that we see in Australia right now is succession planning, because leaders don’t empower their people. 

Just as you don’t need to control every aspect of your business, because you believe you are more capable than anyone else, you also don’t need to view others as a threat to your position. 

It’s ok for people to grow beyond your teaching. It’s ok for people to grow beyond your ability. In fact, it’s desirable. By enabling growth, you give your business the greatest guarantee of continuing success. And that is truly powerful.

Kristian Livolsi


1. Llopis, G. (2018). Leadership Is About Enabling The Full Potential In Others. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2014/07/29/leadership-is-about-enabling-the-full-potential-in-others/#527ec2926698 [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

2. Hill, N. (2011). The law of success. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

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