Is Your Leadership Style the Problem?

By: Kate Patulski, CMC

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As an executive coach, it is not unusual for us to hear leaders of organizations or teams comment on their frustration around the lack of productivity from the people within their organization. In fact, it’s a rarity that we hear a CEO say that they feel their team consistently performs at capacity. So why are so few CEOs blown away by the talent that exists within their organization? Could it be a result of the way they lead their people?

If there is a gap between what you believe your team can do and what they are actually doing, you may want to examine your leadership style.  

Are you enabling or empowering? And how do you actually know?

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a leader of a team consisting of 3 administrative people and another 5 salespeople. Let’s call this leader, Lisa. Lisa mentioned to me that she failed to follow through on her commitments from our previous call because her time had been spent working with her team. She jumped in to help the sales team increase their intensity around lead follow-up, then she helped the listing team, and finally she had to resolve some conflict within her operations team. She was exhausted, frustrated, and left wondering “have I hired the right people” and “how do we go to the next level”?

I asked Lisa, have you thought about HOW you continually end up negotiating your own capacity and growth? What if it has nothing to do with the people that work for you and everything to do with how you lead them? What if we just make a small shift in your leadership style?

I remember years ago when I was first exposed to Gary Keller, CEO of Keller Williams Realty International. He said, “Leaders teach people to think in a way that allows them to achieve their goals and objectives”. 

As a leader, it is your job to help each member of your team work towards their professional goals. You are there to help them eliminate obstacles and take personal responsibility for their behaviors and results. This only happens through empowering people in your organization, not enabling them.

The definition of enabling is,  “to provide with the means or opportunity”.

When you enable, your behavior is providing someone the means and/or opportunity to continue doing what they are currently doing. Most leaders that enable, started the enabling relationship with the best of intentions. It most likely started with a strong desire to help a team member (lacking a skillset) do something that they (as the leader) had the knowledge to do themselves. Over time, however, they continue to step in and “help” as a method to mitigate consequences that could result in a negative outcome. 

In a nutshell, when we enable within the organization, we are protecting those we lead from making mistakes that could reflect poorly on us. It all begins very innocently and, carried out over time, results in people within the organization who doubt their own decisions, choices, and abilities. This doubt eats away at the productivity of everyone, especially the one doing the enabling.

Take a moment to identify how much this might be impacting you. Do any of these statements sound familiar? If so, you are likely stuck in a pattern of enabling, thus undermining your and your team’s success.

  • You find yourself constantly jumping in to solve problems
  • Your employees come to you with all their challenges without considering solutions
  • You find that the jobs you give away keep coming back on your plate
  • You feel like you are surrounded by 100 helpers looking to you for direction

In order to maximize your potential as a team, you have to move from being an enabler to a leader who empowers. The definition of empowering is, “to give someone the authority or power to do something”. When you empower someone within your organization, you give them the authority (vs. the authority coming from you) to take control of a situation, to find resolution, and to identify options. In this environment, people become more confident and competent in their role. When you develop a leadership style of empowerment, you position the people within your organization to grow.

There are four elements to developing a leadership style of empowerment:

Authority: People within your organization need permission to take the initiative to solve problems.

As you think about this, ask yourself, how much room for error is there within my organization? People learn through mistakes, and, many times, what holds leaders back is not leaving any room for mistakes. This leads to leaders jumping in to “save” their employees; thus, robbing them of the experience to learn.  When this happens it signals to the employee that their leader doubts their ability to solve the problem.

It can be difficult to give people more authority and allow them to make decisions on their own. However, without this experience, they will never become true leverage for you as a leader allowing you to grow the organization.

Resources: People within your organization must be given the means to carry out the authority they’ve been given.

Does everyone have access to the resources they need to be successful within their role?  For your team members to be able to make decisions and take initiative, they must have access to the necessary resources. If you are unsure, ask the people you lead, “what resources are necessary for you to be more effective?”

Information: People within your organization need information to continually grow and become more educated in their field as a result of being in business with you.

Do you already provide training to your people? As coaches, we are constantly evaluating the behavior and results of each person on the team to determine what information would have the greatest impact. To determine what kind of information they need, ask your team, “What skills could you develop that would cause you to be more effective in your role?” 

Accountability: People require an environment that sets a high bar of personal accountability. Accountability is the framework where everyone will do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, and know that their follow-through contributes to the success of the organization.

  • What expectations do you have within your organization?
  • We have a saying that people will only jump as high as the bar is set.  Where is your bar set? 
  • How do you hold people accountable and ensure that they are following through?

To raise the bar, you need to have a system to inspect what you expect. You will also want to have a way that you regularly give feedback to acknowledge wins and identify opportunities. 

Moving from someone who enables to someone who empowers others is as much of a mental journey as it is a physical one. It requires you to look at your own beliefs about your team. To examine what is driving you to jump in and provide a cushion instead of empowering others to step up.

A good reminder to help you on this journey is to remember that every time you step in, you take ownership. You not only own the solution, but you also own the win. You rob that experience from those that work within your organization. By empowering others, you become someone who strengthens people’s confidence, and builds people up to take ownership of their role. When you do this, you will find yourself surrounded by people who are driving for the success of the organization. 



Kate Patulski, CMC