Creating a culture of empowerment

This week, Cynthia McLean Lancaster, co-founder of McLean Global Consulting, writes on creating a culture of empowerment.

Sometimes you hear people talking about the best boss (or leader) they’ve worked for. You also hear them grumble about the worst one. To help identify the differences between the two, try this exercise: 

  • Describe what your best boss said or did to help you do your best work. 
  • Now write about your worst boss. What did they say and do to hinder you from performing your best? 

Set your answers aside for now. We’ll revisit them at the end.

A Culture of Empowerment

We all want a workplace where we feel valued, where we’re trusted to make decisions, and can take reasonable risks without fear of blame or punishment. But many people and organizations don’t know how to foster such a culture.

Are you one of them? Do you want to change the way your organization acts/reacts, but don’t know how? 

One way to start is by considering trust and communication. These are key characteristics of a culture of empowerment.


Build trust by conveying clear direction and values through statements like “This is where we’re heading, and here what’s important to getting there.” This lets all parties know what’s expected of them and their team. Include the team in the planning process and ask for their input. This allows them to own the direction and show their commitment. Another way to build trust is to support and develop your team. Let them know you’re there to help them be successful. With this approach, everyone on the team can be confident that you’re there for them. If they get stuck, they know they can ask for assistance without fear of ridicule.


Employees should never wonder whether their performance meets expectations. They should receive frequent feedback from their managers and peers. Conversely, they should also feel that they are being heard, even if their ideas and thoughts are not implemented. Remember, communication is a two-way process!

Improving Empowerment

Now that you have a better understanding of what a culture of empowerment looks like, you may be wondering, “But how do I make it happen?” First, challenge the old ways of doing things. Just because they “have always been done this way” doesn’t mean they should continue to be. Maybe there’s a better way, maybe there’s not. But without challenging it, you’ll never know.

Another way to empower your employees is to encourage "safe failure". Give your people the freedom to try new things in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the company. This can be done by creating milestone checkpoints and allowing employees to learn from both their failures and their successes. Do this by coaching employees, rather than blaming them, when they make a mistake. Remember, we all had to learn what we know now. Help them learn as well.

Looking Back…

Let’s go back to the “best” and “worst” leader exercise. Did the “best” leader foster a culture of empowerment by gaining your trust and communicating effectively? Did your “worst” leader do the opposite? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, and what you found when you compared and contrasted your leaders.

Cynthia McLean Lancaster provides MGC clients with assistance in training, organizational change, project management, and needs assessments.

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