Building Leadership Bench Strength

Building leadership bench strength within your organization requires a steady supply of leadership talent. Looking within the organization, managers and supervisors should consider opportunities to prepare those around them for ever more challenging leadership roles. That said how do you take these high potential candidates and move them forward to leadership success?

Consider the following progression for empowering employees. The assumption here is that the supervisor is continuously testing and evaluating each individual employee to determine what level of empowerment he or she is capable of assuming successfully on behalf of the organization. The supervisor or manage will ultimately decide the actual readiness of the individual for further empowerment and at what specific level.

Level 1:
You (the employee) research an assigned activity; you report what you have learned or discovered; but I (the supervisor) will decide what action is to be taken.

This is the most basic level of empowerment. It is used to determine a baseline for how an individual thinks, prepares, works and communicates. It is most commonly used in evaluating the actual skills of new employees or newly transferred employees. If specific flaws or shortcomings are identified, specific plans for further training and development should be undertaken. If it is determined that the individual meets and exceeds expectations in this area, then the next level of empowerment should be considered. Because of the supervisor’s stated intent to make the final decision, there is no relevant risk assumed by the employee at this stage.

Level 2:
You research an assigned activity; you report the alternative actions/options that are available; you suggest one for implementation; but I will decide what action is to be taken.

Here you are evaluating the mental dexterity and awareness of various decision making options and how relevant or irrelevant they might be for the organization’s specific purposes and intents. As before, there continues to be no relevant risk to the employee since the supervisor has reserved the right to make the decision. If the employee is determined to be ready, the next step in the process is assigned.

Level 3:
You research an assigned activity; you report what you intend to do; but don’t act without my approval.

Notice there is a marked increase in the expectation of performance on the part of the employee. This is the first level at which the employee assumes some specific level of risk. However, the supervisor has continued to maintain some level of “institutional control” by making sure s/he is comfortable with the communicated actions. In each of these first three levels of empowerment, continuing one-on-one, face-to-face communication and the conversations that need to take place are absolutely critical. If the employee is determined to be ready, the next step in the process is assigned.

Level 4:
You research an assigned activity; you report what you intend to do; go ahead and do it unless I say “no.”

By this point in the process, the trust level has clearly increased between both parties. The subordinate has earned the right to move to this level of empowerment based on an understanding of the goals and objectives of the organization and his or her proven performance and identified ability to meet those goals and objectives. Communication is still important at this level, but the reins of decision making responsibility are now being passed from the supervisor to the subordinate.

Level 5:
You research an assigned activity; you take the action you deem appropriate; report what you did.

Subordinates are working independently of their supervisor, with the supervisor’s full knowledge and confidence based on the subordinate’s past proven ability and successes. The unencumbered performance of the subordinate, in turn, frees the supervisor to attend to other pressing issues.

Level 6:
You research an assigned activity; you take the action you deem appropriate; no further communication is required.

This is the highest level of empowerment. It is rarely earned and rarely granted–and then only to the best, most tested and most trusted subordinates. With this level, both supervisor and subordinate share the risk of the empowered actions taken.

A few important observations to remember:

This is not an overnight process. It requires vigilant communication, observation, evaluation and training. As previously discussed, empowerment is preceded and supported by significant and on-going coaching and counseling activities. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” process. It requires customized activities for individual employees who may or may not accept empowerment in the same way or at the same rate as another employee. Appropriate empowerment levels are also dependent on individual jobs. In other words, a single employee may be at a Level 5 empowerment level for one task and the same employee at a Level 2 empowerment level for a different task.

Creating a continuous flow of leadership talent from within our organizations can happen and happen effectively when those of us in leadership positions are willing to share our power with those individuals who demonstrate they are worthy of the challenge.

The big challenge with empowerment is understanding the six levels but also understanding where people fit on those six levels. Take some time to consider each of your employees and the empowerment level that’s right for them. That information and these strategies are things that Leaders Ought To Know.

Phillip Van Hooser
[email protected]

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