Thinking Like a Leader – Empowerment

By Mark Rulle

As a leader we all have a limited amount of resources – our own personal time being the most precious as it is our unique combination of knowledge, skills and abilities that has put us in our current leadership position.  Because time is limited and, because we have certain things to accomplish, goals to meet – our most prized ability may be our ability to “leverage” our resources.  In this case, leverage simply means using each resource (and the combination of many resources) to be able to accomplish more things with more quality in a more sustainable manner.  In a different manner of speaking “leverage” means getting more out of the resource than might be expected by enhancing it in some way.  If I am truly “Thinking Like a Leader” I want to do this as much as possible as it brings with it a modicum of success that cannot be attained in any other manner (without additional resources).  Given the fact that people are the real variable in any work situation (machines, technology, supplies, etc. have a fixed available output unless otherwise modified), as a leader I want to maximize what people can accomplish.  In addition to giving them the appropriate resources to work with, real leverage comes through their own psychological “empowerment.”  That is, their ability to create something greater than before without any additional resources being available to them.  As a leader, why wouldn’t I want to be able to tap into this?

My ability to make use of this resource demands that I think differently than perhaps I currently do.  One of the key elements of this type of thinking is a shift from primarily focusing on the task and work at hand to focusing on the people who are part of the process.  As a leader, this means asking yourself, “How can I maximize the strengths and motivations of my team?”  When we think of the people we work with in this manner the door to possibility opens wider.  Spreitzer (1995) identifies four aspects of psychological empowerment:  Meaning, Impact, Self-Determination and Competence.  Improvement or increases in any one of these seems to be significant enough to have a greater positive effect on the individual in their work environment.  A fifth aspect of empowerment – we’ll call “Supervisor Support” – may be the key to unlocking any or all of the other four.

When I think like a leader in this regard I recognize the influence I have in helping staff find meaning in their work (connecting the dots between work processes and something very important to them: e.g. “helping others”); or helping them recognize the impact they have had (how did their individual work creates a better process or assists an individual patient); or how giving them the freedom to be “self-determining” meant that the decision they made was a contributing factor to the success of the program/project/treatment; and how their specialized knowledge and abilities improved what they did or contributed to the team’s success.  Recognizing these things and consistently giving staff the opportunity to use their own thinking and abilities while pushing my own ego aside (even when mistakes are made AND, even when it could have been done better or differently!) completes the empowerment model allowing for current and future successes – as “Thinking Like a Leader” includes being willing to give up some short-term gains for the possibility and ease in the long-term.

Mark Rulle is President of the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute.

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