Being an Enabling Leader


An enabling leader is passionate about finding ways to actively engage people in working on the issues that affect their organisations and themselves. The aim is to discover ways to motivate everyone to become committed participants in moving constructively on the goals that will make a difference to the teams outcomes. Enabling leaders are continually testing their own motivation and improving awareness on how their personality and behaviour impacts on others.

They have confidence in their ability coupled with the humility to recognise that they have much to learn. Trust and respect plays a significant part in the enablers approach to working with others. Working as a team is preferred as this provides an effective vehicle for demonstrating value to everyone involved. The environment may sound a bit too “warm and cosy” which it can be when everything is going to plan, however, enablers are not afraid to constructively confront people who underachieve or are dysfunctional and thus adversely impact on the outputs of the team. Whatever action needs to be taken is done with concern for the team and the individuals concerned as the aim is to have everyone “on the bus and in the right seat” as described my Jim Collins.

The enablers drive is to enroll everyone to be involved in a constructive process of teamworking to achieve agreed goals in which they are self-motivated to play a full part. Let us now briefly look at environments that discourages the enabling way.

The enemy of Enabling

It appears that in almost every paper, magazine, news programme on digital or the internet, blog, that you connect with there is some reference to how badly people have been treated when engaged in government, business, local politics, or in communities in general. The conclusion often arrived at is the lack of effective leadership in helping people to learn to work together in constructive and collaborative ways.

A piece of recent research conducted by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personal Development) reported that conflict at work is increasing as the number of employment disputes that resulted in tribunals increased by over 15% over the 2006 result. This is another clear indicator that organisations are not creating an environment in which all involved are able to make a contribution based on their ability due to the actual or perceived barriers to collaborative working.

Strikes are another example of action being taken when those involved feel that their case has not been responded to in what they consider to be an appropriate way.

I could go on with other examples, however, in my view the main reason for the problems rests with the inherent weaknesses found in organisations that continue to be based on a traditional hierarchy. Therefore, in today’s dynamic world economy there is a need for another more constructive approach.

The Enabling Way


Enabling leaders need to be skilled at navigating their way through the maze of life irrespective of the locations and situations. This demands a very high level of self-awareness in terms of knowing what motivates them to act and behave the way they do. They know that every person they encounter will be different in some degree from them and this requires them to find the most effective way to interact with different people. Enablers have enough humility to encourage others to give feedback on their behaviour/actions and not take the comments personally even if they are critical. They work on the premise that “if you don’t know yourself, how do you expect to know others”.

Collaborative Culture

It is very clear to most thinking people that no one person has all the answers to the issues they encounter in their daily life however clever they may be. Solutions to the problems that arise tend now to be generated by the collective input from two or more people involved with the issue to be resolved. This in itself makes it an imperative for organisations to have a collaborative culture that supports, encourages, and rewards constructive cooperation. This requires a major rethink on the roles of executives, managers and employees. In traditional organisations the boss – subordinate role is the weakest in developing a collaborative culture due to the embedded ‘critical parent-obedient child’ relationship it encourages. It needs to be replaced by a colleague – colleague relationship that recognises the valuable contribution that each can make.

Valuing the person

Enabling is very much about recognising that each person is different and thus will bring different talent to whatever they and others are going to accomplish. Enablers appreciate that most of us are conditioned to see things from our very own perspective and tend to filter out information that does not fit our mindset. They know that the danger of this single-focused process is in being too quick to dismiss ideas and opinions that they disagree with. Retaining an open mind means being able to ‘park’ your ideas and opinions whilst listening to and clarifying the ideas and opinions of others. This demonstrates your respect for others inputs as well as providing other perspectives on the issue that you may not have thought about. Finding one or even two solutions to an issue is a start, however, the aim should be to generate three from which you eventually select the best one.

Learning to Enable

As we continue to develop self-awareness it will become clear how much our ego comes into play when interacting with others. Enablers are very much aware of the need to balance their ego as too much or too little can have a devastating impact on others. The diagram illustrates some of the characteristics at both ends of the Ego continuum and where enablers strive to position their ego behaviour. As you could guess the way to keep learning about the impact of your ego on those you interact with is to encourage them to give you honest feedback. Receiving feedback often requires some courage particularly when it is critical of your behaviour; however, they are opportunities to display your humility and openness to feedback.

One of the real joys of being an enabler is the recognition that mistakes will happen and this is usually OK as they frequently provide great opportunities to learn what to do differently and more effectively. Openness to learning is linked to curiosity and the enabler demonstrates this by the way they are willing to explore new ways of doing things that are working. They know that there is almost always a better way of working

Enabling and Teamworking

Enabling leaders know that leadership involves a sense of duality with flexibility as they need to flow from being leaders to supporter to leaders to supporters … and so on in a team environment. Very few leaders have all the answers in a given situation and at times one or more of the team actually has the leadership nous that is needed at times in the process. Enablers can make this transition with relative ease as their focus in on achieving the goal rather on how letting someone else lead impacts on their leadership status. Transitioning from leadership to supporting becomes easy when every team member recognises the relevance of the process and accepts accountability when it appropriate for them to provide leadership. In a truly effective team the leadership changes seamlessly just as Team New Zealand demonstrated when they convincingly won the America’s Cup twice.