Principle-Centered Leadership

by Stephen R. Covey

Conditions of Empowerment

Let's look more deeply at six critical conditions of empowerment necessary to release the enormous capacity within your people to meet and exceed the needs of customers and other important stakeholders:
n Trustworthiness- The foundation to all effectiveness and empowerment is trustworthiness. It means that individuals demonstrate both strong personal character and professional competence. They are committed to the shared mission and values of your organization.

One indication of character is reflected in the way we deal with others. How leaders are perceived to treat those they lead will have a far more significant impact on employee performance than the organizational mission statement hanging on the wall. An empowering leadership style requires open communications, not closed; releasing people through win-win performance agreements, not controlling them; and synergistic approaches to making decisions and giving directions, not authoritarian methods.
n Trust- Trust is the fundamental principle underlying and sustaining long-term, interdependent relationships. It is the fruit of trustworthiness. An environment of trust requires individual and organizational trustworthiness. Have you ever experienced a trusting relationship, sustained over time, in the absence of trustworthiness? You can see how the two principles are inseparable. Trust in a culture is the key factor that enables people to unleash their unique, creative capacities.
n A system of win-win agreements- Too often, workers misunderstand what is expected of them; they become frustrated when lack of clarity around guidelines or available resources makes their supervisor or customers upset. In their simplest application, win-win agreements represent an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship between two or more people or organizations who work together. They consistently engage in open, synergistic interaction, always seeking optimum, mutual benefit.

Win-win agreements mean constant understanding and commitment around five key elements to guide the collaborative behavior of the parties: desired results, guidelines, resources, accountability and consequences. When an organization supports such relationships systemically, win-win agreements create an effective framework for interdependent cooperation.
n Self-directed work teams- When leaders structure their organizations to support self-directed work teams, they create a key condition of empowerment. Employees who engage in team and individual self-direction create a powerful force for self-motivated continuous improvement. Special training may be necessary to help people accept the responsibility and develop the skills for effective self-supervision. Deep understanding and commitment to the mission, values and strategy of the organization are essential. The payoff in a leaner, more flexible, responsive and productive organization can be incredible.
n Aligned strategy, structure and systems- Organizational trustworthiness requires alignment-the harmonious interaction of mission, values, strategy, structure, systems and management style with the realities of stakeholder needs and the environment.

Shared mission and vision, including values based on principles, form the heart and core of organizational alignment. Strategy then reflects specific, significant goals, plus the action plan to accomplish the mission and fulfill the vision. Strategy must recognize the realities of the marketplace and the changing needs of customers and other key stakeholders. Structure, systems and processes then support the mission and strategy-and each other.
n Accountability through 360° feedback- Within a culture of high trust, the entire organization can participate in a system of regular written and verbal 360 feedback. If the desired results have been clearly defined and the other elements of a win-win agreement are in place, trustworthy people know better than anyone else how they are performing. People don't need their supervisors to judge their performance; they can judge themselves.

When employees have no system of feedback except annual performance appraisals, the information comes too late, too general and from the wrong source to be truly empowering. "How am I doing in meeting your needs?" should be a question to all stakeholders that every employee and organization should be able to answer regularly.

By creating and sustaining these six critical conditions of empowerment, quality performance will improve significantly. And so will the quality of life for your people.

About the author . . .

Stephen R. Covey is chairman of the Covey Leadership Center and author of Principle-Centered Leadership and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Keith A. Gulledge is vice president and senior consultant with Covey Leadership Center's Professional Resource Group.
© 1996 Covey Leadership Center. For more information, telephone (800) 553-8889.