Are you enabling your employees? I’m not talking about “being an enabler,” but the true meaning of enabling, which is making someone able by giving them power, means, competence or ability, or making something possible, easy or equipped.
Great coaches skilled at bringing out the best in others have a zeal for enabling their team in as many ways as possible. Enabling–giving them the power, resources and ability to complete their tasks and the vision to help them picture themselves succeeding.
What we’re talking about here goes beyond simply eliminating roadblocks for your direct reports. Great coaches are emotionally invested in their employees’ outcomes.
In fact, the greatest coaches can’t NOT enable their troops. It’s in their DNA as a leader to reproduce other great leaders and successful employees. If bureaucracy or policy, or heaven forbid, someone else is getting in the way of your progress, a great coach will take that personally. Mama Bear is not going to let anyone mess with her cubs.
Your role as a manager means that you are (or can be) a coach to your employees. You have the opportunity to encourage and empower your employees and others who interact with you. The best way to do this is to simply enable them, and then get out of the way.
What follows is a collection of guiding principles to help maximize the coach’s effectiveness at being a great enabler for his/her team.
1. Crush barriers with glee
To best connect your people to their potential, you have to almost giggle when you’re busting down barriers for them. Be a zealot. Derive a ridiculous amount of pleasure in clearing the way. Like the amount of pleasure birds take in your just-washed car.
2. See around corners
Spend time anticipating on their behalf. You can often prevent someone from slamming into an obstacle simply by taking the time to reflect upon your own similar experiences. Recall what problems arose and help remove potential issues, or even reroute someone if needed. And remember, the idea here is to see around corners, not corner what you see. By this I mean do anticipate problems on behalf of your team, but don’t obsess on beating those problems into submission by yourself in an attempt to be the hero. Let your coachees in on the issues that you see coming, so that they can be a part of hammering out preventative measures.
3. Give and define decision space
Giving decision space can be difficult at times, but defining decision space can be even harder – and both are critical to do. And there may be nothing more disabling to people than an ill-defined decision-making process. Decision making tends to give birth to many sons and daughters – and all of them think they have a seat at the family table. So gift your people with a crystal clear decision making process. By the way, even if the decision-making process produces decisions people don’t agree with, they’ll still see the fact that a decision was made as extremely enabling.
4. Welcome push back (really)
Sometimes enabling disagreement can be just what’s needed to enable in general. When people don’t feel they’ve had a “fair trial” for a dissenting opinion, they will begrudgingly plod forward, all the while harboring doubt about the course of action. Not feeling heard means not feeling wholly committed – a sure way to disable the heart and mind. As the saying goes, “you have to weigh in before you can buy in”. And while you’re at it, you have to truly believe you can learn from your employees. Keep a running list of what you’ve learned from your people – and tell them. They’ll feel enabled to speak up, and teach up, as long as they understand that you debate, decide, then commit.
5. Roll up your sleeves and give real help
Ever have someone dig in and help you out of a real predicament. You don’t forget that. Neither will your people. So when it’s called for, get your hands dirty and your conscience clean by personally stepping up and going the extra mile to solve tough problems alongside those in need.
6. “Ring Fence” under times of duress
Ever notice how you get a lot of “help” in times of adversity (in the form of inquiries and requests from above, aside, and around you)? While it’s critical in general to welcome and leverage your chain of command/peer group/functional partners, at times the most enabling thing you can do is to beat back the swarm and ring fence your crew. Build a metaphorical protective fence around your people in such times. Be the gatekeeper and personally handle the inquiries and requests. Bravely and respectfully set parameters for what the team will and will not answer during the time of duress.
7. Flip the script
As leaders and coaches, we often walk into a situation where everyone seems to be reading from the same undesirable script. “We can’t succeed, we don’t have enough time and resources”, “I’m working with the B team here”, “My boss doesn’t get me”, “Competition is too brutal”, “We’ve never been able to do that”. On and on the excuses go. And while some might be perfectly valid, perfectly venomous attitudes are a result. As a skilled coach, you can enable your team by helping them no longer accept the script from which they’re reading (and may even feel like they’ve been handed). You can encourage them to not accept a victim mentality and not fall prey to the “script”, or seemingly unfavorable reality, as the final word. You enable others when you free them from ingrained excuses, unproductive cultural norms, false beliefs, or acidic attitudes. Sometimes you just need to help them flip the script and start reading, and believing, a different story.
8. Resource the racehorse
Prioritize the key work – your “racehorse” projects in the stable – and let ‘em run by fully resourcing them. Failing to prioritize and make choices is a brutally disabling choice in and of itself. Similarly, half-commitment is fully disabling.
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