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How do we empower employees?

The following section is an excerpt from Chapter 25 of my book Win at Home First.

One of my favorite bosses was Max. He knew my wife’s and my kids’ names. He enjoyed it when we went out for dinner with our spouses. He knew it grew our friendship and also demonstrated gratitude for the sacrifice our spouses were making. He occasionally organized the sales team to go bowling and grab some beers. Max was very good about cultivating a relationship with his team.

Max also had high expectations. We worked hard to hit our sales numbers and provide accurate forecasting for the upcoming months. When we had a big presentation, he wanted us to practice together beforehand. He reviewed our expense reports. He read our emails and provided comments.

I didn’t want to let him down as a friend but also as a leader. Max demanded excellence for himself and his team. He worked hard to create a top performing team.

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I have experience with another type of boss too. This other boss I worked for did not know my wife’s name or how many kids I had, let alone their names. He never asked about my fam- ily or anything in my personal life. Instead, he always drove for more results.

When my phone would ring with a call from him, I knew it was not going to be an empowering call. On the Invitation vs. Challenge matrix (discussed in chapter 18), he was all Challenge. He regularly pointed out my mistakes and what I could have done better. My wife could always tell if had I talked with my boss that day because I was defensive, tense, and frustrated. Yes, I performed well for this boss when I was on the clock, but off the clock I was not committed.


I also have had experience with another extreme. The buddy. The manager who created a cozy environment. This boss knew my wife’s and my kids’ names and activities. Every Friday he would ask what we were going to do on the weekend, and then every Monday he asked in depth about our activities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being involved in your employee’s personal life, but when boss/employee conversations are domi- nated by personal topics, you have to question if work is getting done.

This boss always forgave a missed deadline or an inaccurate forecasted sales number. His usual response was, “Don’t worry, we will get them next time.” Well, most often “next time” got the same nonconsequential response. As you can imagine, neither my team nor I lived up to our potential under this leadership style.


Maybe you can relate to the above three kinds of bosses too. Max’s style of empowerment brought loyalty and commitment, whereas judgement and dictatorship brought self-destruction to everyone involved, and the cozy environment brought friendship, but it didn’t yield results.

In chapter 18 of part 3, “Parenting,” we introduced the Invi- tation vs. Challenge matrix. The lens to view this matrix at work is Relationship vs. Responsibility. Inviting employees into Rela- tionship by asking about their home life, grabbing a beer with them, having fun. Challenging an employee into Responsibility to make sure the job gets done by holding people accountable, expecting a certain level of excellence due to the task.

In my own life and working with others, I have found this tool to be incredibly valuable for situational leadership. There are times we need to calibrate and spend relational time with certain employees because we challenged them for a season, they succeeded, and now it’s time to recalibrate. On the other hand, there may be other employees we have been soft on, so it’s time to increase the intensity so they can grow.

A healthy leader understands how to use this concept based on the situation of the employee. However, unhealthy leaders don’t understand, thus they stay in the same quadrant for all employees and at all times. They have a one-size-fits-all mental- ity. When this happens, it is most often due to the leader getting his or her identity from work. Where the leader ends up on the matrix is related to how the leader obtaining a sense of his or her own value.

Max did not go to work to get his identity. He had a strong family, he had hobbies, and he was secure in his identity. If he left the company, it would not devastate him. Max wanted both Re- lationship and Responsibility because he knew the combination would yield the best results for the team.

The second boss I mentioned did not want Relationship. Only results. He found his identity in not only work but the work performance. Leaders like this are driven by Responsibility and results instead of Relationship. Their drive for work could be a general ambition to perform well, or a desire to have their name on the leaderboard, or a drive to make a lot of money. These leaders do not ask questions about you personally; instead, they only want to make sure you submit your projects on time and correctly. They are not concerned with anything else. Frankly, these leaders view Relationship as a waste of time. Employees may march to the orders of this leader, but only when they’re on the clock. Off the clock these employees are thinking about updating their resume, wondering where they will work next, as well as wishing the boss would move on.

The third boss I mentioned was about Relationship to a fault. Leaders who create a cozy environment often do this because they also are going to work for their identity, but for approval more than ambition. They want to be liked by everyone. Perhaps due to struggles at home and tension in their personal life, they want friends in their work life. They do not press in when people are not meeting their numbers. They do not hold people accountable for fear they will not be liked. Instead of having a tough conversation with employees who are not performing well, they give them a pass. Instead of balancing truth and grace, they are only grace.

The best leaders are those who empower. They drive both Relationship and Responsibility. They care about you and your career, but they also equip and empower you to be successful. These leaders are in the top right quadrant because they are constantly calibrating between Relationship and Responsibility.


  1. Plot the people you lead in the Relationship vs. Responsibility matrix. Is it time to recalibrate?

  2. If you currently have employees in cozy or dictatorship relationships, ask yourself why. What changes are needed?


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