A manager delegates, a leader empowers
Jim Bouchard at EBC 2022

Jim Bouchard interacts with the audience during his keynote at the Executive Briefing Conference in September 2022 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

Before I upset anyone, let me be clear. Delegation is vitally important. But remember the powerful words of Admiral Grace Hopper: “Management is about things. Leadership is about people.”

Delegation is a management task. And if you want to delegate effectively, you’ve got to make sure the people to whom you delegate specific tasks have what they need to succeed. This is why as a leader — you’ve got to empower.

The biggest question is: “What do your people need to succeed?” That’s not a rhetorical question. You should make the asking of this question a discipline. And you shouldn’t do it “in your head.” This list needs to be on paper or in a doc.

Too often leaders assume that once a task is delegated, that person will gather whatever resources are needed. That’s a dangerous assumption. Of course, there is responsibility on that side and if you’ve chosen that person correctly, they should be able to take the ball and run. But you have a different, and likely a more global perspective. You might have more experience and might know more about what that person needs than they do themselves.

On the other hand, you might delegate to someone with far more experience, skill or knowledge in a particular area. It’s worth taking some time to ask them what they might need to get the job done. Now your job as leader is to make sure they get those things.

What people need
So, what exactly do people need to perform effectively?

Let’s start at the 30,000-foot level. People perform at their best when —and only when:

  • They know their leaders care.
  • Their work has meaning.
  • They have the chance to learn, grow and develop.

On that third part you might add the chance to advance, though that’s not important to everyone. Some people are perfectly satisfied where they are as far as their position. But, there is still an innate drive in most human beings, and this is a quality you certainly want in your people, to continually improve. You’ve got to address that drive.

To succeed, people need tools and resources. I learned long ago that success is nothing more than the product of abundance. We are successful when we have, or when we are producing “enough.” And we have to produce enough in three major areas:

  • Material
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

You’ve got to make sure people have what they need in each of these three areas. Depending on the task, the person, and the team, you start making your detailed list from here. Identify exactly what people need in each of these three areas. 

Material: The simplest and most obvious. Do your people have the tangible resources they need to get the job done — or better yet, to exceed expectations. Some items in this area are: budget, equipment, tools, workspace, supplies, training, personnel and staff, and time.

Emotional: A little less tangible, but you can still accurately measure, if not weigh some of these items. They include: encouragement, guidance, autonomy, support from leadership, clear expectations or goals (mission), and communication. Again, you’ll add to the list. As you do, be sure to get specific in each category and keep asking at each level if this is “enough.”

Spiritual: These are the “intangibles.” You can’t physically weigh them. They’re difficult if not impossible at times to measure. Their effects are much more challenging to track. Sometimes we only know these exist because we feel them, but they are likely the most essential assets your people need to perform at their highest level: vision/sense of purpose; respect, trust, and loyalty; confidence in leadership; and some feeling of safety or relative security.

We could spend all day breaking these down. In our workshops, we often do just that. To stay within the constraints of this article, I’ll just challenge you to think about each of these areas and continue to refine them specifically to each task or mission. 

Respect, trust, loyalty
I will add this. I hate it when people toss the spiritual resources into the so-called “soft” skills bucket. Let’s take respect, trust and loyalty for example.

Abundance or scarcity of these resources are sometimes more a matter of feeling than anything else. However, these three in particular are the most essential assets for any leader. If you doubt that assertion then ask yourself this question: “What can I possibly accomplish without the respect, trust and loyalty of the people I serve?”

Power and authority
There are two more essential items I don’t want to leave out of this discussion. You could easily put them into one of the big buckets we’ve already covered, but they are so important they deserve a closer look: power and authority.

In fact, these might be the two most important things your people need to succeed. They are also the two things that too many leaders try to keep for themselves. 

In a way, power covers everything we’ve already talked about. Having said that, it’s always worth keeping the idea of power at top of mind, once we understand its true meaning:

“Power is your ability or capacity to act or perform effectively.”

In “The Sensei Leader” I spend a lot of time talking about the challenges and opportunities associated with this definition. To keep it short here let’s just say that if you want to perform more effectively as a leader, your job is to help other people perform more effectively.

When leaders hoard power, they’re cutting their own throats. Power only expands through sharing. Make your people more powerful — empower them — and you become more powerful.

It’s the same with authority. We all know the problems associated with micro-management. Unless you want to do everything yourself, you’ve got to give people the authority to act independently, make decisions in real time and respond to unanticipated changes.

Of course, there are limits. That’s why the clearly defined mission and vision are so important. You want people working together to further the common cause. A clear vision is essential and as leader—you are the steward of that vision. 

Start with questions
Now you might be tempted to start making your list right now, and that’s not a bad way to start. But when we do workshops in this area, we start with two questions:

  • What do your people need?
  • How do you know?

Let’s wrap things up with an emphasis on that second question. I don’t ask that question to be provocative. Use it to really think about how you’re going to determine — on an ongoing basis — exactly how you’ll ascertain and analyze specifically what your people need. 

And why not ask THEM? All of them.
How you do it is up to you. I recommend a combination of these techniques:

  • Polls and surveys
  • Open discussions — especially with smaller groups and individuals
  • Listening sessions or circles 
  • Peer group meetings and reporting

Solicit input from all levels. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to accommodate every wish or whim. You might not even be able to address crucial needs at times. 

But you’ll be aware of them, and you’ll be able to prioritize what needs should be addressed first.
Just involving people in this process is a powerful way to earn respect, trust and loyalty. 

But a final warning:

If you don’t care, don’t bother.

Follow through.

If you don’t pursue this process with sincerity and authenticity, your people will see right through it. And you’ve got to follow through. You earn your people’s trust by transforming their contributions into action.

Again, this doesn’t mean every suggestion is going to be embedded in the task at hand. However, you can make sure you show sincere appreciation for everyone’s contribution and make sure they know that every contribution is valued, whether it’s implemented or not — or might be saved for future consideration. 

Ultimately, this is all about power — getting things done. Whenever I’m asked to sum up leadership in one thought, I always offer this:

“Leadership is sharing. A leader shares.”

We’ve already said that power only expands through sharing.

Make others more powerful and they will make you more powerful.

Empower others — they will empower you. 


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About the author
Jim Bouchard | President/Owner/C-Level

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, executive mentor, and author. His books include “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.” You can connect with Jim on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/jimbouchard and contact him directly at [email protected]. Phone him at 207-751-4317.