You’ve empowered your team : so why isn’t it working?


You’re hip with the leadership trends.

You’ve told your team they’re empowered to make decisions and should no longer seek your approval.

Yes! This is what anyone who knows anything and leadership is talking about these days.

Keep reading to find out why it isn’t working yet 👇

We’ve got roadworks on the High Street so have an unusual scenario; the Zebra Crossing is being temporarily controlled by traffic lights 🚦


Yesterday, I waited to cross. It was red for me but green for the approaching cars.

But as I waited patiently, all the cars stopped. And I felt compelled to cross because I felt like I was holding up the traffic!

The cars had a green light so their instruction was this: you shouldn’t give way to pedestrians on the Zebra crossing.

But they simply couldn’t ignore all their years of driving experience, which said:

“You must give way to pedestrians, even the ignorant ones who cross suddenly with no warning and don’t say thanks.”


Let’s move this scenario to your workplace.

You’ve told your team they need to start feeling more empowered – you’ve seen this work brilliantly in books and on YouTube and you want your team to succeed.

You want them to develop critical thinking by being more responsible for decision making.

You want them to feel empowered. Brilliant! (say hello to that stress free holiday to Lake Como)

So, you share your enthusiasm, and the awesome YouTube video and then you high five everyone as they leave the meeting room. 🙌


But, what if what your team heard was this?:

“You know how previously you checked in with me on key decisions, and I’ve happily given you the benefit of my advice? And you know how you’ve cc’d me in on e-mails because they were about a project I’m still involved with?

Well, I now want YOU to make decisions and feel Empowered with a capital E.”

Remember the car driver. Well, the team’s red light might be their combined experience of working with you pre-empowerment, and how things tend to work around here.

And the green light is the brand-new instruction. The one where nobody is sure of the implications and what it actually means in practice.

All is not lost – you just need to talk to your team and you’re likely be able to turn that red light, to a much happier green.

Here are some ideas from the master of empowerment and Author of Bestselling book Turn the Ship Around!, David Marquet:


✅ Check in with them about having more authority and making more decisions – are they up for it?

Talk about what decisions could move to the team – decide on some experiments

Make sure there is competence and clarity to back up the shift in decision making. Do people need training? Are they clear on the purpose and outcomes needed?

Talk about reasonable steps towards them fully making decisions: things like: “explore options,” “recommend alternatives,” or “come up with a plan,” or “do what you think is best.”

Talk about what happens in a crisis. Remembering that reverting to command and control won’t give people a chance to perform under pressure.

✅ And finally, don’t make hierarchy the enemy. Instead, use hierarchy in a way that places greater obligation on those higher up to take care of their teams, and greater responsibility to ensure those below them have the tools they need, in the form of technical competence and organisational clarity, to be successful when making decisions.


If you’ve tried to move more decisions into your team – and it hasn’t been as successful as you’d like – it’s the kind of thing that I have loads of experience in.