Trust and Empower

When my career first took a turn from individual contribution to a leadership-type role, one of the hardest things I had to learn was to let go. I had to let go of my desire to control everything, and I had to let go of trying to manage every little detail. Most importantly, I had to let go of my ego.

While I was in the midst of the struggle with letting go, I met up to chat with a former boss whom I respected. I told him ahout all of the things I admired about his leadership now that I was taking on the role of a manager. One of the pieces of advice that he gave me that day has shaped how I lead ever since:

It’s not enough to trust those you lead, you must also empower them to take ownership.

There are three things I have observed, from both sides of the table, that will help you trust and empower those you lead:

Make room for ownership

The best results happen when those you are leading follow your guidance, but contribute their own creativity and innovation.

Micromanage someone and you’ll get one person’s work out of two people. Instead, teach that person what you’re looking for and then give them the freedom to take ownership and tackle the problem their way (within a guiding set of parameters).

When one has a personal stake in the task and they are the owner of the outcome, it boosts their enthusiasm and satisfaction. The result is a better outcome and a happier employee.

Commander’s intent

Commander’s intent is summarized as this: When I give you a task and its parameters, I also explain the rationale and the end goal. You’ve been given not just marching orders, but the ability to chart a new path should you hit a roadblock; you can take full advantage of the room for ownership you have been given. The result of communicating commander’s intent is that your team will be empowered to exercise its own ingenuity and creativity to accomplish your goals independently, even in the face of setbacks and complication.

Recognize and elevate

On of the tips my former boss shared with me was that you should always be training your replacement. This is tough for many of us (me included) because it feels like we’re training ourselves out of a job.


If your value comes solely from being a secret black box of problem-solving ability in a certain niche, your days are numbered. What you want is to be able to advance, and to do that you need someone to take your place.

Even more valuable than one who solves problems is one who can teach others to solve problems just as well. And if you also teach those people how to teach, you are multiplying your value exponentially.

A final word on ego

There’s one thing that will stop you from making any of the above tactics possible: Your ego.

There’s no room for ego in leadership. Ego sinks profitable companies through unwillingness to admit mistakes or to correct bad choices. Ego takes credit instead of passing it on to those who deserve it. Ego holds on when it should let go, out of fear of losing power or status.

It is only by putting aside our ego that we have the capability to trust and empower.