Define the What, Release the How: 4 Strategies to Empower Your Team

Published May 1, 2018


Leading OthersSupervising People

Our team was frustrated. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t seem to get momentum. Between communication breakdowns and apathy of the staff, we all felt like we were spinning our wheels.

As the leader of the team, I called us together for a meeting to figure out what was going on. We were better than this, and I was committed to getting to the bottom of it. I opened the meeting by saying, “Something isn’t working. We all feel it. It seems we don’t know what to do about it, and so we’re going to start with me. As the leader of this team, I need to take responsibility for our ineffectiveness. For the next hour, I want you to tell me where I am creating the confusion that is hindering our momentum.”

As you can imagine, it was dead quiet for a few minutes. Eyes darted from person to person, silently asking, “Is she serious, or is this a trap?”

I was serious, and with a little bit of coaxing they began to share their frustrations and observations. Their feedback was simple. “We need you to define what we need to do and clarify why we need to do it, but release us to figure out how.”

At first, I wanted to argue. I wasn’t a micro-manager! I just cared deeply about the work we were doing. I wanted to make sure everyone understood what we’ve done in the past and how we did it, so they could more efficiently keep it moving.

It sounded great in my head. But once I started to say it out loud, I realized the frustration I was creating. I had unintentionally become a bottleneck in the organization. Out of a desire to be helpful, thorough, efficient and if I’m honest, to be right, I had neutered my team of the autonomy to figure out how to best accomplish the work.

The lesson for me that day was simple: Define the What, Release the HowI needed to release the how of our work so our team could thrive and take the ideas further than I could by myself.

As leaders, we will find ourselves in similar moments throughout the different stages of organizational growth. Before you create a bottleneck in your organization, consider these 4 reasons why you need to release your team to do the how.

1) Release the how because you may not actually know how to do it best anymore.

This one might be the most challenging. Many leaders rise to responsibilities of leadership after having served in many different roles throughout the organization. Your competence and experience got you to the position of leadership, but overly relying on that experience may be the thing that inhibits your continued growth.  The people closest to the challenge often have the most perspective on how to navigate it.

2) Release the how because it will challenge your team to bring fresh ideas.

 When you aren’t dictating how to do things, your team will be encouraged to think for themselves. They will begin to have more ownership in their responsibilities.

3) Release the how because it will stretch your team to do more.

Do you ever get frustrated with team members who do the bare minimum? Odds are they need to be challenged. When we release the how, we release them to dream bigger than the tasks we hand to them.

4) Release the how to free you up to be focused on the future whats.

As the leader, you need to be out ahead of the team, planning the future direction. When you’re too busy directing how, you don’t have the margin to be dreaming up the next what.

Define the What, Release the How. In doing, so you’ll elevate your leadership and empower your team. 

About the Author(s)
Jenni Catron

Jenni Catron

Writer, Speaker & Leadership Expert

The 4Sight Group

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker and leadership expert committed to helping others lead from their extraordinary best. A leader who loves “putting feet to vision,” she has served on the executive leadership teams of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, CA, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. Outreach Magazine has recognized Jenni as one of the 30 emerging influencers reshaping church leadership. She is the author of several books, including her latest The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.