iStock photo“You go ahead, I’m right behind you!”

That line has been used so often, to either set-up comedy routines (where the speaker then hides or heads off in the other direction), or hint who is going to get killed next in B movies.

So much so that, now, we almost can’t take seriously the idea that the person not leading the way could have the other person’s best interests at heart.

What about you as a leader of a customer insight function? How do you balance when to take the lead yourself & when to empower others to take centre stage? The right balance between effective empowerment & abdication can be a tricky one to judge. Do you have a handle on this one?

I’d like to suggest some  things to consider when facing this challenge, but don’t want to pretend to have all the answers. As with most leaders, I look back on my time creating & leading insight teams (up to 44 people strong), with a mixture of pride & guilt. There are always things you wish you’d done better. But then quite often it is the mistakes I made that have taught me what works better.

Here are four things to consider when seeking to achieve empowerment and avoid abdication:

We are all individuals. What works for them?

Given that the felt experience for your team member is all about their perception. The best place to start may be in getting to know them better. Are they extrovert or introvert? Do they crave creative freedom or clear direction? Which aspects of the job have they mastered & where might they run into problems? How have they responded in the past?

Depending on the maturity of your relationship, a good place to start can be an open conversation. If you layout your desire for them to grow & experience more responsibility, be sure to do plenty of listening to both how they feel about that and what approach/support they feel works best for them.

The role of incisive questions.

We can all be limited by our beliefs, about ourselves, others and challenges we may face at work. Your team member may have had negative previous experiences or suffered from a micro-managing boss in the past. If you are to help them overcome ‘limiting beliefs‘, it makes sense to look at coaching theory.

In her bestseller “Time to Think”, Nancy Kline proposes a style of questioning called Incisive Questioning. It is all about asking a question that will enable the other person to reconsider the art of the possible. The question is called incisive because it cuts cleanly into the limiting belief (assumption) and removes it.  Here are 3 steps she proposes to construct an incisive question:

  1. Hypothesise (‘If you knew…’)
  2. Follow with a freeing true assumption (‘that you understand this customer behaviour really well & are a great analyst…’)
  3. Attach that new assumption to the goal (‘how would you feel presenting your work at X meeting?’)

Now, it’s never as simple as that & skill comes by practicing. I’d just encourage trying incisive questioning as part of empowering an analyst to try something new & challenging?

Have you tried #IncisiveQuestioning to #empower an #analyst to do something #challenging? Click To Tweet

First they observe, then you observe, next time they can do it.

There is an old guideline for effective delegation that I’ve found helps protect against some of the pitfalls when seeing to ’empower’ someone. It suggests that when handing over responsibility for something that the other person has not done before, you plan 3 stages of practice.

In the first, they come along to observe you completing the task, with opportunity to question or feedback afterwards (depending on the setting). The second time, they try doing it themselves, but you are also there as a support or observer. This enables you to provide clear feedback on how they did in action. Only on a third occasion should they be expected to deliver that presentation or undertake the task on their own & even then you should seek feedback from their customers or others impacted. It’s a simple rubric but can work well.

Be aware of the impact you have on others.

Finally, let’s return to the theme of the impact people have on others. This time, instead of considering their internal beliefs, consider what impact you have on others. Less experienced leaders in particular can feel under pressure to perform or appear confident. Given many leaders are “driver” personality types, this can backfire in their impact on others. People in their team may perceive them as uncaring, demanding, overly political, critical or just not interested in them.

In a study on “coaching Emotionally Intelligent Leadership“, Jonathan Perks & Prof Bar-On identify the need for a leader to have interpersonal capabilities & adaptability. Under ‘inter-personal’ they include aspects like empathy, relationship building & social concern. Coupled with a flexibility to adapt one’s own style to work better for each team member, such competency can be very powerful.

Just one simple example is the management idea of “catching someone doing something good”. In an environment of seeking to challenge & stretch potential future leaders in the team, it can be so refreshing for you to also watch out for & praise what they do well. It can dispel misconceptions as to your view of them.

Over to you…

Part of the responsibility of customer insight leaders is to both nurture the next generation of leaders & to enable your team to work to the best of their ability. None of the above is anything approaching a silver bullet, nor is it rocket science. But I would encourage customer insight leaders, amongst the many hats you have to wear, to give time to reflect on how well you’re empowering your team. How do you know what works well for them?

#CustomerInsight #leaders do you take time to #reflect on how best to #empower your team? Click To Tweet

Each of us will have different styles & experiences. We’d love to hear more about what has worked for you and your teams, or if you’re feeling brave an example when you got it wrong. How are you doing with empowerment?