Three tips for helping everyone become a leader

‘Alaska Air. Now that’s real leadership,’ I thought as I read Nikki Ekstein’s Bloomberg article, “Why Little Alaska Airlines Has the Happiest Customers in the Sky.”

Why is that? Because Alaska Airlines treats their employees as adults, encouraging them to “find the story [of their customers] and create a personal connection.”

Airline staff are empowered to use their own judgment and discretion in providing compensation and incentives to customers. This is so much better than needing to follow a corporate policy to the letter or appeal constantly to a supervisor for permission. Policies like these liberate initiative, giving people freedom of choice and responsibility for their own actions.

President and COO Ben Minicucci tells his employees, “Do what you think is right. We trust you. You’ll never get in trouble for making a decision. And we don’t want you to call the supervisor.”

Have you ever said that to your staff?

Employees appreciate this vote of confidence, and customers appreciate being treated like actual human beings who deserve empathy and true customer service, as distinct from the recitation of policies and blame and excuses that amount to a denial or shifting of responsibility.

How can you use similar strategies to empower your staff?

This is not a question about what your policies should be as such. It is a question about your attitude toward your staff. When you empower your colleagues you give meaning and dignity to their work, and increase their sense of responsibility.

Here are three suggestions for ‘human attitudes’ that you can convey to others. Doing this will empower them to become more human-centred leaders. Your challenge is to discern and discover in each moment how you can convey these in your actions, rather than your words.

1: I trust you. I have confidence in you. 

We all know how much better we work when we have the encouragement of another’s trust and confidence in us, in our abilities, and our judgments.

2: You can decide. It’s up to you. 

Affirming others’ in their freedom to choose (and supporting that choice as a learning opportunity when it does not go well) helps people feel more responsible and involved in their tasks. We are always naturally more enthusiastic about something toward which we have a sense of ownership .

3: You can change the situation. You can solve the problem.

True leaders share their power with others — that’s the meaning of empowerment. It means ‘putting power into someone’ as you encourage initiative and conviction, as you back them in their choices.

At a time when so many leaders lack trust in their staff, leave few decisions up to them, and do not leave them to solve problems at the lowest possible level, it is crucial to rediscover the role of empowerment in developing human-centred leaders.

We can learn a lot from the example at Alaskan Airlines. 

How do you empower or encourage your staff?