Empowering Leaders at Every Level: The Key to Creating a Culture of Empowerment

Jul 18, 2022

It’s no surprise that the myriad events of the past two years have resulted in a dramatic shift in the workplace. From where we work to how we work, the “office” has been completely flipped. The same goes for how we lead. But in the case of leadership, changes have been happening for years and were exacerbated by the pandemic.

So just how much and in what ways has leadership changed? In a recent Wiley Workplace Research survey of more than 5,000 working professionals at all levels, we dove into people’s current thinking about leadership—formal and informal-- and how it has changed. Not only did we find that people want the opportunity to learn and practice leadership skills in their role, but we also found that inspiring leadership at every level can have a profound impact on employee experience. 

The Evolving Leadership Landscape

We’ve all experienced a variety of leaders over the course of our careers. In fact, many of us have held formal leadership positions. Consider the current workplace, what qualities come to mind when you think about “leadership?” If you were asked to think of qualities or skills associated with leadership 10 years ago, would you have given the same answer? Probably not. The traditional view of leadership as a fixed “one-size-fits-all" approach has evolved to a more agile approach that flexes to meet the needs of the situation and players. In our survey, we found perspectives are shifting about how leadership is viewed. We asked our survey respondents what came to mind when they heard the word, “leadership.” Here are some of the common words they shared. 


 

As you can see, people expect leadership to be collaborative and people focused. Nowhere does it say “authoritative,” or “charismatic” - words we might have expected to see 10 years ago. But if our expectations of leadership have changed, have we also changed the way we view emerging leaders?

Leadership at Every Level

When asked, nearly 82% of respondents said they considered themselves a leader, with 62% of individual contributors viewing themselves as a leader. This data suggests that leadership at work has expanded beyond titles. To know more about this expanded view, we asked participants to rank the ideal qualities they want in a leader. The overwhelming majority said the ideal leader has the following three qualities: 


 

What’s interesting about these three qualities is that they can be found at every level; they are not limited to roles or positions. Effective communication is critical in all roles, everyone is capable of building relationships, and all employees should understand the organization’s vision.

Why does this matter? By thinking about leadership as behaviors that can be learned, we can focus on ways to create opportunities for all employees to gain experience and build the skills to be a leader. If we have a better understanding of the desired behaviors, we can do a better job of preparing leaders to learn and practice the skills. We can also shift our perspective from viewing leadership as a formal designation to a more holistic view where anyone can be a leader. This is the concept of “leadership at every level.” You may have heard of the concept, but what does it really mean? Here’s how our respondents perceived “leadership at every level.” 



We define “leadership at every level” as empowering employees to perform their best in their current role by creating a sense of ownership and accountability in their work and the work of the organization. It doesn’t mean that employees must hold a formal leadership role but rather take ownership of their work and seek opportunities to grow. In essence, leadership at every level is creating a culture of empowered employees.
 
We know the majority of our respondents view themselves as leaders, but how are they showing leadership in their current role? More than a third cited coaching others, sharing innovative ideas, being accountable, and seeking feedback on their performance as ways they currently demonstrate leadership. When we think of the outcome of these behaviors, the impact becomes clear: Leadership at every level creates an organization where employees feel included, valued, and heard. 
 
Creating a culture of leadership at every level
 
It's a commonly accepted principle that achieving a work environment where employees feel included, valued, and heard—while good for people—is also good for business. Our research supported this principle with 98% of our respondents saying that when they feel valued by their employer, they feel ownership in their work, are more productive and motivated, and feel like they are contributing to the success of the organization. So, if leadership at every level is a worthy pursuit, our next question must be this: How do organizations create a culture of leadership at every level?
 
Not surprisingly, creating a culture of leadership starts with the evaluating the values, systems, and people processes that fuel your culture. At the organizational level, building systems that promote transparency, consistency, role clarity, and trust is the foundation for positive organizational culture. At the employee level, this can be done by creating a psychologically safe environment that encourages inclusion, collaboration, collegiality, connectedness, and innovative thinking among all employees. This improves culture by strengthening relationships, increasing effective communication, and building trust within the workplace.
 
When the conditions are right for employees to feel valued and have a sense of belonging and purpose, they feel empowered to lead. Organizations can translate those feelings of empowerment into tangible results by investing in each employee’s development and success as a leader.
 
The investment should start early through embedded opportunities to build leadership skills for all employees. We shared earlier that 62% of individual contributors view themselves as a leader, yet our research found that only 28% of individual contributors said they have received leadership training. In comparison, almost 60% of respondents in leadership roles reported receiving leadership training. What’s clear in these numbers is that there are gaps in our leadership development programs. Given that leadership isn’t an innate characteristic, but a skill honed with time and practice, organizations have a great opportunity to get people working on their leadership skills for today and the future.
 
Consider whether your organization currently offers leadership skills training for all employees. If not, this is one way to build a culture of leadership at every level by offering training across roles, which will positively affect the success of the organization.
 
The bottom line is that investing in your employees benefits the individual and organization. According to our survey results, employees, regardless of role, felt strongly that leadership training at every level would empower employees, strengthen relationships, and build deeper connections. Notice any similarities? It’s the power of leadership at every level. When people feel empowered, they are more likely to be connected to the work, stay at the company, and work toward the success of the organization.
 
The Leadership Challenge® is part of a collection of assessment-based learning experiences within Wiley Professional Learning. Based on the best-selling book The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner and grounded in the evidence-based Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI®), The Leadership Challenge® learning experiences guide individuals through their leadership journey.
 
Our latest solution, The Leadership Challenge® Self Empowered™ is an assessment and facilitated learning experience designed to help grow and develop leaders at every level of your organization. Powered by the LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory®, Self Empowered introduces individuals to the language of leadership through the lens of their own behaviors. Through this powerful experience, leaders begin to recognize and act on their own natural leadership abilities and are armed with definitive actions they can take to grow.
 
To learn more about The Leadership Challenge® solutions, including Self Empowered™, LPI® 360, and The Student Leadership Challenge® visit our Solutions Overview page and see how you can start unlocking the power of exemplary leadership in your organization.
 


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