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September 24, 2020

Five Steps to Empowering Others: Our Expert Interview With Frances Frei

Rachel Salaman


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You could say empowering others is the holy grail of leadership. When people feel empowered, performance, productivity and satisfaction all improve. But how do you do it?

Harvard professor Frances Frei and her partner, Anne Morriss, think they've got the answer. They've developed a practical framework for empowerment, based on their work as consultants and as senior executives at leading global companies.

At its heart is the idea that great leaders may not look like leaders at all – the only thing that matters is what they can do for others.

In this clip from our Expert Interview, Frei expands on this idea.

Trust, Love and Belonging

Morriss and Frei share their framework for empowerment in a new book, titled, "Unleashed: the Unapologetic Leader's Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You."

The framework is easy to visualize. It consists of five concentric circles, with each ring representing a different factor that leads to empowerment. The innermost circle is the closest to the leader, the outermost is the furthest away.

At the center is trust, the main foundation for empowering others. "Without trust," Frei says. "You don't get the benefit of the doubt, and things constantly get re-litigated."

Then comes love. This is an unusual context for "love," but Frei argues that "to really unleash someone in the world" is the greatest act of love you can perform for another person.

Belonging comes next. This is where leaders ensure that they truly see and serve everyone around them, no matter how different those people are. Like Frei herself.

The Big Unleash

"I'm a lot," admits Frei. "Because I want to change the world and I call things how I see them. I have gotten advice, I think, at every stage of my life, to smooth the edges, really trim who I am."

And in the beginning, she tried hard to follow that advice. The result?

"It was a disaster! I was terrible at fitting in, and I wasn't nearly as effective as the people who were born that way," she says.

This led to what she calls "the big unleash." She realized she needed to look beyond people's advice – what she calls "prescriptions" – and focus instead on why they were giving it.

"Often our prescriptions are only good for people that are just like us," she reflects. "So I stopped listening to the actual prescriptions and just started feeling [people's] deep devotion to my success. It totally changed my relationship with people and how I felt on the inclusion dial." 

The Inclusion Dial

The "inclusion dial" is another neat schematic you'll find in her book, in the belonging section. It moves through four steps that describe how team members feel on the path to inclusion: safe, welcome, celebrated, and cherished.

These steps are progressive, Frei says, so the order matters. People will only feel welcome once they feel safe. This then leads to celebration, and the final step is when everyone feels cherished – the ultimate in inclusion and a massive boost for an organization.

People often talk about "diversity and inclusion," she adds, but it's better when inclusion comes first. A culture of inclusion often leads to a diverse workforce, and that's not necessarily the case the other way around.

When you get inclusion right, and good leaders unleash the best from their people, organizations thrive. "That's how we're going to get more rigorous decisions," Frei says. "That's how we're going to be able to do things faster. How we're going to be able to do things at higher quality."

Listen to Our Interview With Frances Frei

Discover fascinating insights from some of the world's leading business figures with our monthly Expert Interviews.

Mind Tools Premium and corporate members can listen to the full 30-minute interview with Frances Frei:

If you're not a Mind Tools member, you can join the Mind Tools Club and gain access to our 2,400+ resources. For our corporate solutions, take a look at our Emerald Works site.

What does inclusion mean to you? How can we unleash the best in our people? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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