Knowing how to motivate and empower employees is vital for leaders of all levels. Research shows employee empowerment not only leads to higher job satisfaction, but improved work performance and a greater commitment to the organization.

A recent study detailed in the Harvard Business Review found that leaders who empower their employees are more likely to have team members who are perceived by their peers as highly creative and helpful.

Whether you’re a seasoned or aspiring leader, there are several benefits to understanding how you can enable your colleagues to reach their full potential. Here are seven ways you can empower your employees and cultivate a winning team.

How to Empower Employees

1. Build a Culture of Trust

Trust is an essential component of any successful organization. According to research by consulting firm Great Place to Work, companies with high-trust cultures:

  • Report stock market returns that are two to three times higher than the market average
  • Have turnover rates that are 50 percent lower than industry competitors
  • Generate increased levels of employee engagement, innovation, and satisfaction

To build a culture of trust, it’s important to lead by example and keep your promises, tell the truth, and encourage open dialogue and debate to solve conflicts. Doing so can inspire your employees to follow suit.

Related: 8 Tips on Strategy and Leadership

2. Deliver Honest Feedback

One of your key responsibilities as a leader is enabling your team members to do their best work. To make your employees feel empowered in their roles, deliver honest feedback on their performance.

Be clear and specific when providing feedback, and make it a point to highlight your colleagues’ strengths to boost motivation. A recent survey by Gallup found that 67 percent of employees whose managers focused on strengths were fully engaged at work, compared to 31 percent of workers who received feedback centered on their weaknesses.

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3. Show Empathy

Empathy is among the most important traits a leader can possess. According to a study by Businesssolver, 91 percent of CEOs believe empathy is directly linked to a company's financial performance, and 93 percent of employees say they're more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. What’s more, empathy has been rated as the top leadership skill by DDI, a global consulting firm.

Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and try to understand their point of view regarding their role and contributions in the workplace. By taking their perspectives into account, you can become a more emotionally intelligent leader and make your team members feel like they’re understood and valued.

4. Foster Open Communication

Communication is a critical soft skill for all professionals. To succeed as a leader, you need to not only be a strong communicator, but a great listener.

You can leverage your communication skills to drive employee empowerment by fostering open dialogue. Research shows that workers whose managers are approachable are more engaged which, in turn, cultivates a team environment wherein members are comfortable sharing ideas and challenging one another.

Related: How to Communicate Organizational Change

5. Be Purpose-Driven

In the online course Leadership Principles, Harvard Business School Professors Joshua Margolis and Anthony Mayo note there are three key needs leaders should address when mobilizing employees:

  1. Orienting the team’s beliefs—both about themselves and the challenges and opportunities they face
  2. Equipping team members with the practices and habits to take on challenges and opportunities and achieve the desired end goal
  3. Igniting employees’ emotions so the drive to learn and deliver comes from within

Rallying your team around a purpose is an effective way of instilling a commitment to organizational goals and making your employees feel like the work they do matters. In a survey by EY and the Harvard Business Review, 89 percent of executives said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction.

HBS Online Sustainable Business Strategy Professor Rebecca Henderson echoed this sentiment in a recent Facebook Live lecture, underscoring how purpose can also drive organizational success.

“Adopting a purpose will not hurt your performance if you do it authentically and well,” Henderson said. “If you’re able to link your purpose to the strategic vision of the company in a way that really gets people aligned and facing in the right direction, then you have the possibility of outperforming your competitors.”

6. Delegate Responsibilities and Tasks

Part of being an effective leader is understanding you can’t do it all. You need to trust your team and be willing to hand off important tasks and responsibilities to efficiently execute initiatives and projects.

When assigning to-dos, it’s critical to start with your reasons for doing so. Give employees an idea of where their work fits into larger organizational initiatives, and highlight what’s unique about the opportunity on the table. Providing this context can boost their enthusiasm for the task at hand and increase the likelihood that the job gets done well and on time.

7. Support Growth Opportunities

Learning and growth opportunities fuel employee empowerment. According to research by LinkedIn, employees who spend time learning at work report that they’re:

  • 47 percent less likely to be stressed
  • 39 percent more likely to feel productive and successful
  • 23 percent more ready to take on additional responsibilities
  • 21 percent more likely to feel confident and happy

To help your team members reap these benefits, encourage them to seek out ways to professionally develop, such as by taking an online course or pursuing an MBA.

No matter which avenues your employees take to further their knowledge, your support of their growth can lead them to feel more competent and valued in their roles.

Leadership Principles - Unlock your leadership potential. Learn more.

Unleashing Your Team’s Potential

Empowering employees is an imperative task for new and aspiring leaders alike. As you follow your career journey, consider how you can adapt your leadership style to unlock team members’ potential and overcome organizational challenges.

For Juliana Casale, head of marketing for a SaaS company, taking Leadership Principles was a way to become more aware of how she interacts and collaborates with her team.

“I'm now more mindful of how my colleagues are experiencing me, and less averse to having difficult conversations," Casale says.

Do you want to enhance your leadership skills? Download our free leadership e-book and explore our online course Leadership Principles to discover how you can become a more effective leader and unleash the potential in yourself and others.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.