Developing teams is a critical aspect of leadership.

Team building is not just about putting a group of people together and hoping they get on well. It’s about creating an environment the team will flourish in, and this requires a focus on one key thing.


When you know how to empower a team of people, they can achieve the extraordinary. In the years I have been working with leadership positions (at all levels of organisations), one thing continues to show up as the biggest limiting factor to real team development, and on a bigger scale, to any kind of cultural development. This factor is the ability of leadership positions to allow, encourage and enable their people to empower themselves.

Sounds simple, right? It is the most difficult concept for someone who already has a kind of power, to understand and to want to implement in their environment, usually because they believe that if those around them (and beneath them) are empowered, it will somehow take away from the power that they themselves perceive to have. But if they were truly empowered themselves, they would not be threatened by the empowerment of others; they would want it more than anything else; because when people are empowered, they solve problems, take responsibility, are accountable and take care of each other. These are the foundational behaviours necessary for a workplace culture to flourish.

Dictionary definitions of empowerment tend to list it as ‘the authority or power given to someone to do something’; this definition doesn’t make sense. If you must ‘give someone the power to do something’, then they are not empowered; you’re just giving them permission to do it, and this is not empowerment. Most people, if they want to feel their own sense of power, will not be happy with permission from you to do something; they will respond more to realising something needs to be done and doing it because it’s the best or right thing to do.

This probably seems obvious, but when leaders are managers, they only know how to give permission, not provide the arena for empowerment. It’s like that great quote from the Spanish Philosopher, Maimonides: ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ If you truly enable personal empowerment in your workplace, your people will love their work, give it their best attention, collaborate openly with those around them to improve everything, and build a culture at work that is truly awe-inspiring.

True empowerment is the one thing that is often missing from our boardrooms and missing in our leaders; its absence leads us into a plethora of workplace issues that include  workplace bullying, gender inequality and high depression rates, to name a few.

The problem lies in leaders in the workplace not knowing how to facilitate their own empowerment. It’s a bit like telling someone to ‘be more confident’; if they don’t understand the concept or know how to achieve it, they tend to stick to their old routine. Leadership positions who do not know how to lead, tend to use the old management routine or pretend they are leaders. Of course it’s easy to spot someone trying to be a leader; all you need to do is look at the culture that grows around them to see the authenticity of their leadership capability. Because if you have to frighten people into doing what you want them to, you’re not leading, you’re managing.

But, you cannot give empowerment to others, you can only provide the right ‘arena’ for it to occur, and then encourage it to become a norm; this is the foundation stone for all personal and cultural development; there is no other way.

Great leadership is the birthplace of individual empowerment in others, and for it to occur, leaders must have enabled their own empowerment first. This is the single biggest social problem we face in the world today; the lack of real empowerment in the individuals who could do the most with it.