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In Your Face! Don’t Be Afraid to Empower Your Employees

In Your Face! Don’t Be Afraid to Empower Your Employees

This article is extracted from In Your Face! Canadian Association Leaders Share Candid Advice on Pressings Issues, edited by Sandi L. Humphrey, CAE.



Control is Done by the Weak

Early on in my association management career, it seemed every time I was in a room with other association executives, I heard complaints about Boards micromanaging paid staff. Boards, it appeared, were hesitant to let staff actually manage the association -- they wanted all “major” decisions (who knows how the word “major” was defined) to be brought to them. Working in that environment, it is no wonder then that many association executives have picked up that same bad habit -- they micromanage their own employees! Sadly, I witness it and hear about it often.


"He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still."
-- Lao-Tzu


The solution is to empower your employees. Delegation alone is not enough-- empowerment goes beyond that and includes establishing and maintaining a learning environment where people are allowed to be creative, are given the tools and training they need to do their work, and are encouraged, rather than discouraged, to take risks. As people managers, we also need to ensure we have our employees’ backs.

I know that just the thought of allowing staff to take risks will have some association executives shaking in their boots. But if you think about it, it’s clear that we must be constantly upping our game if we are to remain relevant in the eyes of our members and stakeholders in today’s wildly changing environment. So, doing things differently is not an option -- it is an imperative. When we try new things, or new ways of doing things, we’ll fail once in a while. But that’s a good thing.

Failure should not be responded to with retribution. After all, with every failure, we learn a lesson and get better at our daily work. That thought needs to be embraced by every leader, regardless of sector. It is important to understand that as a leader, you need to have the courage to openly address shortfalls or failures on the part of your employees. Unlike many school systems today, where everyone gets a pass regardless of performance, associations need leaders who help their employees learn, and that can be a challenge and unpleasant. But it cannot be overlooked as a critical leadership task.

People who manage via control don’t have a lot of courage. It can be tempting when an employee is struggling with something to push them aside and say, “Let me show you.” Losing patience is the worst thing you can do in such circumstances.

Don’t fall into the trap. In the end, you’ll wind up with a staff of people working in your association who are just like you (an association staffed by a group of clones). It’s much more prudent to surround yourself with those who will challenge you, are more confident, feel good about their work, and who won’t make the same mistakes you do. Risk and opportunity go hand in hand!



In her book, In Your Face! Canadian Association Leaders Share Candid Advice on Pressings Issues, Sandi L. Humphrey, CAE presents a range of association-related articles on a wide range of topics provided by leading subject matter experts in the association sector.



In Your Face, Leadership, Diane J. Brisebois, Sandi L. Humphrey, Employees


Publications, Guest Contributor, Governance / Leadership



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