Talking Point: The Disney Institute Blog

The Key to Transformational Leadership: Know How to Empower Your People

December 11, 2014 by Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute

Forbes recently published an article, “6 Ways to Empower Employees Through Transformational Leadership,” in which the author states that only “rare ‘transformational leaders’ are able to prevent employees from being excessively reliant on their bosses, cultivating instead a staff that feels empowered and self-guided.”

I found it interesting because, during a presentation, when I ask a typical audience of leaders,How many agree that creating a culture of trust and empowerment is important?” – every hand goes up. But then, when I ask these same leaders, “How many have deliberately put in place a system, or mechanisms, for establishing this type of work environment that everyone knows, understands, and uses on a fairly regular basis?” – the hands drop to just a few. 

Clearly, the trick to great leadership is to develop more "transformational leaders,”those who not only know that empowering people is important, but also know how to do it. This is effectively closing the "knowing-doing gap," made famous by authors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. In today’s increasingly fast-paced and complex business world, no one individual can do everything well. Leaders will only be successful to the degree in which they can actively involve and empower others. 

Walt and Roy Disney were transformational leaders, whose example we continue to follow today. They knew that a leader’s goal is not perfection; a leader’s goal is to know where he or she is imperfect and leverage the strengths of other team members to fill in those gaps. Roy trusted that Walt would focus on great animation and storytelling, and Walt trusted Roy to secure the finances that would bring their dreams to life.

So, what can leaders do to build the level of trust that enables people around them to be empowered? The first step is to agree as a team, at all levels, that this is important. Not just temporarily important, as in a "program" or "initiative," but as an organizational value that everyone can commit to on an ongoing basis. By then continuously delivering on this commitment, leaders create the foundation of trust that is necessary for true empowerment

Delivering on this commitment can take many forms, some of which are mentioned in the Forbes article. At Disney, what we have done is to create a series of Disney Leader Basics (operational standards), which are defined by behaviors that everyone knows, understands, and demonstrates on a regular basis. In this way, teams trust that their leaders are deliberately walking their locations with a positive intent.

Here’s one example from our Disney Leader Basics that ties to this discussion of empowerment (note how it’s formatted as an "I" commitment statement followed by the specific behaviors):

"I know and manage my operation and teach it to Cast Members"

  • Model and teach The Four Keys Basics behaviors to Cast Members
  • Know when to make decisions and when to empower Cast Members
  • Transfer knowledge and skills to Cast Members
  • Monitor, measure and make balanced financial decisions to ensure an efficient operation
  • Be available, visible and able to assist in the operation, as needed
  • Remove barriers and identify improvements in the daily operation

Empowerment is not just a time-saving gimmick used for short-term productivity gains. Remember…great leaders surround themselves with people to whom they entrust their careersEmpowerment is the way to continuously develop the acumen and skills of the team, which, in turn, enables the team, the leader and the organization to continuously transform themselves! 

How are you actively demonstrating your commitment to empowering your team?

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Posted in Leadership Excellence | Tagged Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Empowerment, Employee Empowerment, Leadership Training, Leadership Styles, Management, Bruce Jones

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