Leading By Empowering

Mike Beckham

One of the qualities most leaders share is that they are exceptionally competent in handling assignments or challenges themselves. However, this strength can actually work against them because it becomes difficult for them to give up control. I noticed this tendency in myself. When something came up that needed to be handled, I would just do it.

For example, I remember the night that I stayed up until 4 a.m. working on an awards application for our chapter of Sig Ep. I was a few months into my term as president when this particular elaborate 20 page application was due. It definitely didn’t fall under the job description of president, but I just went ahead and did it anyway. I figured that it would just be best for me to do it because then I knew that it would get done the way that I wanted it.

Even though I did get that awards packet done in time, I learned that week that I was doing something wrong. During my first few months in office, I had just become kind of the responsibilities trash man. I completed all of my duties and also took on the responsibilities for a lot of the other miscellaneous tasks and projects. It was exhausting, and I quickly started to burn out. My vision for the house and general enthusiasm level really suffered as a result.

Eventually I realized that I couldn’t do everything by myself. However, even as I tried to transition into allowing others to contribute, I found myself still trying to maintain control of the way that they would do things. My thought process was that if I couldn’t do the awards application, then I wanted someone else to do it exactly the way that I wanted it done. I would give other people responsibilities, but it was more like me handing them a to-do list than anything else. I would call what I was trying to do delegating.

Shortly after that week, the light bulb went. I realized that effective leadership is impossible without inviting others to lead with you. The process of learning how to involve others in leading and contributing is crucial, and it starts by understanding how to empower others instead of just delegating responsibilities to them. Delegating is assigning tasks to others so that things will get done. Usually it is done after the direction and vision for a project or event have already been set.

Although it’s better than trying to do everything yourself, delegating still isn’t the most effective way to lead. Some of the shortcomings of simply delegating are these:

• It creates less of a sense of ownership in others

• It does not develop the leadership and decision making abilities of the person being delegated to.

• The circle of experienced leaders in the house will remain small.

• The creativity and ideas of those that are not in the decision making process aren’t expressed or used.

In contrast to delegating, empowering is giving others the opportunity to lead and develop by entrusting them with the chance to be the point person of a certain area or event. It is different from delegating in that the established leadership allows for the person being empowered to make decisions about how to accomplish the responsibility that they have been given. It is a more effective way to spread responsibility but more difficult because it requires leaders to relinquish some control. At the same time, it doesn’t mean just assigning a significant task or role to someone and just turning them loose without any guidance. Really empowering someone requires allowing them to chart the course while helping put them in a situation to succeed by offering advice or help along the way.

The results of empowering members in your house will make your group stronger and more influential. Fraternities and sororities are full of the world’s future leaders and most likely every member in your house could make a significant contribution in some way. The key is to find out what areas of the house that they are passionate about and then empower them to lead in those areas.

There will always be a limited number of people that will serve in elected leadership positions, but a good leader will find a way to help many members lead in their own way and make a positive impact in the house.

Mike Beckham is an alum of the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. As an undergraduate he earned a degree in finance. Currently he is a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ at OU. He also serves as the chapter counselor for Sig Ep.

2 Responses to “Leading By Empowering”

  1. Mike, I think this is a great article. I struggle with empowering and delegating as well.

    This was well thought out! I’m sure it will be very helpful to others.

  2. Well said buddy. There is an abundance of truth in what you’ve said. I feel that I’ve just barely been able to experience this type of empowering to my exec and all members in general, and you really give some awesome tips on putting that into practice. I’ll definetely be following this advice.

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