"Don't cheat people of their growth. Empower them to solve problems and generate ideas. Watch them grow!" ~Stephen Covey

"Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others." -John Maxwell

If you asked most leaders what things took up a sizable portion of their day, “approving things” would certainly make the list. After all, leaders are ultimately accountable for the performance of their team and that requires them to review the processes, projects, plans and exceptions regularly. But in doing so they might also be mitigating their team’s ability to reach higher and perform better?

One of the keys to great leadership is empowering your team and one of the most practical ways to teach your team empowerment is when they come to you for an approval. It is at this moment, as the old saying goes, you either “give them a fish” or “teach them to fish”.

Approvals are some of your most prevalent and impactful opportunities to empower your team

You need to give answers, but you need to teach lessons too. Asking questions to test and stretch knowledge is the first step in doing this. It doesn’t need to take a lot of your time, you can start simply with one of these:

  • What do you think?
  • How would you do it?
  • Do you think this is the best we can do?

This initial step itself is empowering for the team member in simply showing that you value their expertise enough to ask for their opinion. The goal of this exercise is to teach and show your team how you think about things. The team member’s answer can lead to an approval (if the answer is perfect, or you are short on time) or further questioning and discussion of how/why you would handle it a certain way. As you do this more and more your team will be able to anticipate and emulate your thought processes. Given enough practice and demonstrated aptitude you can then look to give them the empowerment over certain things to do your job for you.

Beyond empowering and teaching your team there are a whole host of other benefits for you if you turn your approvals into learning sessions. Opening a discussion with a team member can help you:

  • Practice your communication
  • Mentor your team more
  • Solicit more feedback from the team
  • Find the next leader

Now you don’t want to start becoming the leader who never gives a straight answer. If you seem evasive or you make it difficult every time a team member has a question you could dissuade people from coming to you. But with that one caveat there is an awful lot to be gained from leveraging your approvals instead of simply giving them. So I encourage you to not just be an “approver”, talk it through and let them approve it themselves.

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