Empowerment isn’t an attitude or feeling, or something you merely grant or bestow upon your leaders. It’s not a mystical gift from a generous leader or church board. Empowerment requires an intentional process that needs consistent effort and commitment. And your leaders love and appreciate it!
Empowerment within a vision-based organization that is committed to healthy teamwork is not a pass for the leaders to do what they want. It is not complete autonomy and freedom. An intentional process of empowerment results in leaders who are well trained, trusted, resourced, connected to the culture and in agreement with the vision. They are internally motivated and fired up to lead! They become loyal and fiercely committed to the vision.
These leaders are now set free to lead for the good of the organization without fear of micro-management, mistrust, or political manifestations such as power plays and end-runs.
Empowered leaders receive consistent support, coaching, guidelines, communication, and encouragement. True empowerment is based on a foundation of trust and results in leaders who are not only released to lead, but they are inspired to lead as well!
There are five elements to effective empowerment:
1. Trust with responsibility.
The process of empowerment starts with trust. Without trust you will never let go of the keys. Every teenager wants to drive a car when they turn 16.
As a parent, you may be reluctant to hand over the keys because your son or daughter might get hurt, or wreck the family car. But if you don’t give them the keys, they can’t drive! It’s that simple. It’s a risk, but one you have to take. It’s a big responsibility to get out on the open road, but they need your trust and a chance to succeed. It’s the same with your leaders. Hand them the keys. They might not do it as well as you, and will likely make mistakes, but if you want the church go grow, you need to trust your leaders with real “behind the wheel” responsibility.
2. Train for competency.
In the same way you would not let your teens drive the family car without driver’s education, your leaders need training too. Even the best and brightest of your leaders need training in order to become better leaders.
Church leaders, whether volunteer or staff need both equipping and developing, as part of their training, but ultimately it is developing that opens the door to true empowerment.
The training needs to be consistent, relevant, and practical. It must also embrace the cultural values of your church.
3. Unleash with authority.
It’s important to give authority equal to the responsibility. The most common expression of authority is decision-making, but often includes a variety of factors from teaching to financial.
Create an atmosphere of boldness not caution. This is achieved by encouraging mistakes. By mistakes, I don’t mean sloppy and unprepared leadership, but the willingness to take risks, learn from mistakes and grow as a leader. It means embracing the courage to put progress over perfection.
Sharing authority typically embraces inclusion over exclusion. This does not suggest forming a “club” of sorts, but opening the way for others to lead.
4. Communicate clear expectations.
Let’s return to the driving analogy. When I taught both my kids to drive, part of the process was communicating not only the rules of the road and where their authority started and stopped, but also very clear expectations. One of those clearly communicated expectations was a curfew of midnight. Home by midnight or you lose the privilege of driving.
Leaders need guidelines and clear expectations. These are not straightjackets that prevent leadership, but job descriptions, goals and cultural values that make it possible for them to be successful. When a leader does not know what is expected, they simply cannot win.
Though very uncommon, on rare occasion it is necessary to remove empowerment. Perhaps the leader refuses to operate within the guidelines and values or cannot keep up with the needed competencies. It’s always a tough decision to remove empowerment, but on rare occasion it needs to be done.
5. Love and believe in each one for maximum potential.
This final element is what makes the “magic” happen. Or perhaps better and more accurately stated, this element brings the Holy Spirit in to the mix in a meaningful way.
When Jesus shared His authority with the disciples, it wasn’t a mechanical or hierarchical thing. He mentored them, invested time with them, and loved them. He saw through the mess and believed the best. Jesus had faith in the twelve, even though their faith often faltered. Jesus believed in them before they fully believed in themselves.
The transitions were significant. From fisherman and tax collectors, to pastors, evangelists and missionaries. Jesus saw all that in them. You and I have the privilege and responsibility to “see” potential leadership in those we lead, and often before they see it in themselves.
Believing in someone is a statement of faith beginning in your heart that finds its way to their heart. When a person senses the belief you have in them, they rise to the height of that belief. Every time? No. But that’s part of the risk and it’s worth it!
When you believe in someone you value them as a human being of significance. Believing in them is a deposit of your personal faith and confidence in their life.
The power of your love for someone, truly caring about them, cannot be overestimated. It truly is life changing.
Empowerment is a life changing process. It’s not just about what a person does in their volunteer role at the church. It’s much bigger. It’s about who they are. It makes people better moms and dads, it helps people get promotions at work, it raises up community leaders and more.
Bottom line, it helps people live bigger, better and more significant lives.