Empower vs. Delegate: A Guide for Successful Results

Empower vs. Delegate: A Guide for Successful Results

John Eades 31/05/2024
Empower vs. Delegate: A Guide for Successful Results

Everyone starts somewhere. However, the place where people start is different from the place where they take ownership.

Professionals go through stages from a mindset and a skill perspective to equip themselves to take decisive actions and make effective decisions.

The problem is micromanagers forget that where you start isn't where you finish. Instead of coaching, teaching, and equipping team members to grow and develop, they rely on a previous mental version of team members and micromanage the you-know-what out of them. What's worse is when the team fails to perform at high levels, they have the nerve to complain, make excuses, or blame team members instead of looking in the mirror.

However, I assume you aren't striving to be a micromanager since you are reading this column. To ensure this isn't your team's experience, you probably follow the standard management advice: "You have to delegate more as a manager." While the suggestion of taking things off your plate and putting them on someone else's makes sense, it's not what the best leaders strive for. If you take nothing else from this column, I want you to take this:

Managers Delegate. Leaders Empower.

The intention behind a manager that delegates is it's about them. Conversely, the intention behind a leader that empowers is about others.

Empower vs. Delegate

It's easy to confuse delegation and empowerment or even use them interchangeably. So, let's get on the same page about the difference between them.

Harvard Business Review defines delegation this way. Delegation refers to the transfer of responsibility for specific tasks from one person to another. From a management perspective, delegation occurs when a manager assigns specific tasks to their employees. These are often tasks the manager doesn't want to do or doesn't have time to do.

According to Oxford Dictionary, Empowerment is "the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights." Empowerment enables others to be responsible for and take ownership of themselves and their actions.

In Building the Best, I defined a leader as someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others. Empowering others to make decisions is an essential part of successful leadership today. Aren't sure about the value of empowerment as a leadership skill?

  • 77% of employees feel they would be more productive if they had a greater say in decision-making.

  • Companies that empower their employees have 50% higher customer loyalty rates.

  • Empowered teams are 30% more likely to stay with their current organization compared to those who feel disempowered.

In an interview on The John Eades Podcast, author David Marquet told me, "Followers have limited decision-making authority and little incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion. Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative." Marquet is correct; when team members aren't empowered to make decisions where the information is, it's demoralizing and creates a lack of initiative.

Check out this quick story from Chick-fil-A about the power of empowerment.

How to Empower Team Members

Empowering team members isn't giving everyone the green light to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Here are five proven steps and techniques you can leverage to empower others effectively.


1. Develop Trust

Effective leadership is a one-on-one game, not a one-to-many game. So, fostering a culture of trust and respect with every team member individually is essential. In an Accelerate Leadership Workshop last week with a group of managers at USI working to lead, not manage their teams, I shared a trust-building principle that I want you to remember today.

With strong relationships, you can't lead.

It will be tempting to skill the step of developing trust with team members but reject the temptation. If you want to effectively empower team members to become the best version of themselves, it requires a bond of mutual trust.

2. Articulate Ownership

Communication, or a lack thereof, is the number one cause of leadership failure. Instead of assuming team members know what you are empowering them to do, you must articulate the ownership you desire. The number of leaders who assume their team members know the standards and expectations baffles me because Assumptions set us up for suffering.

Assumptions set us up for suffering.

Be clear in your communication about the standards and expectations they are to take ownership of.

3. Evaluate and Coach Skill

Empowering team members to take ownership of something they don't have the skill to do sets them up for failure. It's true; failure can be an excellent teacher because failure is not final, failure is feedback.

Failure is not final, failure is feedback.

However, failure can also demoralize someone's confidence if what they are being asked to do isn't something they have the skills to do. Author Seth Godin wrote, "Skill is rarer than talent. Skill is earned. Skill is available to anyone who cares enough." If the skill isn't developed enough to successfully take ownership of a task or project, coach them up.

4. Recognize Initiative and Effort

It's easy to reward positive outcomes. However, to facilitate ongoing ownership in team members, you must provide recognition for the initiative and effort. When leaders praise effort, it increases the desire in team members to mimic it in the future, irrespective of the outcome.

When leaders praise effort, it increases the desire in team members to mimic it in the future, irrespective of the outcome.

Research suggests that leaders should give 5x the amount of praise and recognition to every critical comment. Get in the habit of rewarding and recognizing attitude and effort.

5. Encourage Collaboration

Shared ownership is better than individual ownership because it raises the level of accountability on a team. The best leaders aren't just out to empower one team member, they empower everyone. To do this effectively, they encourage collaboration and support between each other. This means you have to promote a sense of shared responsibility and teamwork.


Where you start is different from where you finish. This is especially true when leaders in your career empower you.

If that wasn't reason enough, know that when your team members are empowered, you can shift your role from a direct authority responsible for making every decision to that of a coach. Instead of dictating every task and making all the decisions, you will free yourself up to lead.

If there is one thing I know for sure, we need more leaders, not managers.

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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