Knowing When to Step Aside

Picture yourself standing on stage in front of a thousand people.

You are the keynote speaker. The topic is Leadership.

Today the audience wants to know more about you, your leadership, your biggest challenges and lessons learned.

Thinking back over your career, what challenges come to mind that you successfully overcame?

  • Fear of public speaking
  • Making your first presentation to an unfriendly or unknown audience
  • Having to discipline or fire someone
  • Reducing your workforce through no fault of their own
  • Leading a big change
  • Managing a team
  • What else?

Yes, these are big challenges, and you successfully overcame them! Yay!

Another challenge that is as common and has far-reaching implications, is knowing when and how to trust, empower and step aside.

This challenge may be slightly more subtle and can even be a blind spot for a leader.

In order for people to feel like they are making a difference, and to do the work in the most effective and efficient way, there are five critical elements that individuals need:

  1. clarity of their role and responsibilities
  2. the knowledge, skills, abilities and style that it takes to do the job
  3. clear line-of-sight between their function, their role and the bigger picture
  4. to know the boundaries of what they can and cannot do
  5. to be trusted and provided with adjusting and reinforcing feedback

Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, it is more difficult than it seems. There is not enough paper or computer space to capture every single thing a person does and how they should do it. This is where communication, relationship building and trust come in.

We all want maximum efficiency and for our team members to feel good about what they do, so what would prevent a leader from being able to trust, empower and step aside to allow a direct report to get the job done?  Let’s start with the definition of empower… “giving power to someone, to make them stronger and more confident. “

There are many potential reasons why a leader is unable or unwilling to empower.  They may

  • fear that a team member will abuse or overstep their boundaries
  • not be fully aware of or trust the individual’s capabilities, skillset and/or degree of judgement
  • have past experiences with this person resulting in doubt that this person will deliver and/or deliver the quality that is needed
  • be a perfectionist and somewhere deep inside believes he/she can do it better than others
  • feel the need to retain control

Each of these reasons has different strategies for addressing. A leader who takes the time to build relationships, set clear expectations, ask open-ended questions, seeks to understand, addresses short comings as they occur, and invests in training and development of self and others will be able to overcome most of these.

The more troublesome are the last two because they are inside out work vs outside in work.

 As Toni Morrison said, “you wanna fly, you got to give up the XXXX that weighs you down.”.

If you, your boss or your team recognize that the inability to empower others is preventing you from being all that you can be, and you are ready to make changes that will benefit you and the organization, I can help.

Maybe you’ve already conquered this challenge for yourself; if so, is there a member of your team that could be a better leader if they addressed this one issue? If so, reach out to me at to find out how you and/or them can move on and move up.

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  1. Your article gave me a lot of inspiration, I hope you can explain your point of view in more detail, because I have some doubts, thank you.

  2. Your article gave me a lot of inspiration, I hope you can explain your point of view in more detail, because I have some doubts, thank you.

  3. Your article gave me a lot of inspiration, I hope you can explain your point of view in more detail, because I have some doubts, thank you.

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