August 3, 2019


You may have wondered in your career, "How do you make a great team?" For me part of the answer lies in empowerment, by allowing people in your team to do what they think is best!


Becoming a leader is hard! People look up to you for guidance, direction and most importantly, what to do. The pressure is on, and understandably so, you need to make sure that you are on top of your game and that you know a lot about the project so you can break down the work so the rest of the team can help out. It's a tall order and a lot is riding on your shoulders!

Top Down Leadership

What I just described to you in the opening paragraph is what we call "Top down leadership".  The reason for this is because in this model the person at the top, the leader, is the one who "knows everything" and delegates the work to everyone below them. But there is one major problem with the doesn't empower people!

What is Empowerment?

Now some of you may be wondering what do I mean by empowerment? Well, according to the Cambridge Dictionary empowerment is

The process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want

Some of you may be thinking that the sheer thought of allowing people to do what they want gives you the chills.  But this is exactly what David Marquet talks about in his book Turn the Ship Around. In it he describes his journey in leading the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe. It was the worst performing vessel in the US Navy. He explains how he turned things around on the vessel to make it the best performing ship in the navy within one year, and he done this by empowering the crew members. He let them to decide what was the best action to take at that moment in time and to state their intentions. This was a novel idea, especially for the Navy, that was built on this top down leadership mentality.

Setup the Rail Guards

For empowerment to work, you need to first have some things in place, some rail guards as so to speak, to prevent the project from going into the gutters. I like to call it the 3 C's


When I talk about competence, I'm talking about being able to do your job and do it well. You need to make sure that you have people who can do their job else the project will surely go into the gutters. Only when you have skilled people who know what they are doing, can you empower them.


Context answers that question of why? Why was something done the way it was? Why was a particular decision made? Without that knowledge, that why, you don't have that "North Star" to guide you to make the right decisions when you reach the proverbial fork in the road.


Lastly, you need to make sure that you are communicating as a team. You need to let each and every person know about anything important as that could affect your context, your why. You need to make as much information as transparent as possible to keep everyone in the loop.

Before we end off this post, I would like to leave you with this quote from David Marquet.

Good leaders give good orders, but great leaders don't give any orders because they've built a team that doesn't need to be told what to do.

That is the beauty of Empowerment!

Just a note. This blog post is an excerpt from my talk titled "What submarines and chickens can teach you about leadership" which I will be presenting at DDD Perth 2019.

Until next time...keep learning!