Create an empowered workplace in 2021

In order to be a great leader, you must learn to empower your people. Anytime you see a poorly run restaurant, retail store, or organization, empowerment is the missing ingredient. Anytime you see a super well-run business, that’s very likely the secret to their success.

As I define it: Empowerment means feeling confident in your ability, and encouraged by your circumstances, such that you feel motivated and at liberty to fully devote your talents to a purpose.

Most leaders acknowledge that this quality will lead to happier, more motivated employees, and thus improved business results, but they don’t know how to create empowerment.

Being a hard worker isn’t enough to empower teams. It can only be accomplished by a leader who takes the time to know, understand, and care about their employees. Just as one cannot force someone to love another person, a leader cannot force anyone on their team to feel confident, encouraged, and motivated.

In my years leading Chipotle, finding ways to create this feeling in our people was my top priority, as it was the most powerful way to lead our company to extraordinary results. I learned there are five key actions that create this type of culture, and as I look around at the business landscape, I see too few leaders following these principles. The result, unfortunately, is teams that are not operating at their best.

Connect with your people

People feel most encouraged when in the presence of someone who loves them, supports them, and is committed to helping them be the very best version of themselves. For that reason, the first step to empowering your people is connecting with them.

Connection has become increasingly important as many workplaces have gone remote this year. Todd McKinnon, CEO and cofounder of Okta, shared how he’s reallocated time to connect with his team despite the distance. He’s working more closely with the C-suite and personally onboarding new additions. He answers anonymous questions from employees during all-hands meetings, hosted an AMA to address the company’s response to COVID-19, and did a listening tour to discuss Okta’s support for Black Lives Matter with his employees.

These actions send a loud and clear message: I see you, I hear you, and I care about you. Connection is easy to recognize but hard to define. It is something you can just feel. The feeling is warm, feels inclusive, and safe. Sometimes, with people who are shy, or slow to trust, it takes considerable time to make a connection. Other times, the connection is nearly instant and takes little to no effort. No matter what style of person a leader is confronted with, a sincere effort to really connect is meaningful and important.

Inspire them with a vision

Few things are more discouraging than spending hours of your life on meaningless work, while not many things are more encouraging than having a real, meaningful impact. So a key part of empowering your employees is inspiring them with a vision.

To be inspiring, a vision has to be worthy of a person’s effort. It must be more than something that the leader wants to accomplish for themselves. The vision has to be something that, once achieved, makes a real difference in the life of the person being asked to achieve it.

Inspiring someone requires more than merely sharing the vision. It requires explaining how a person fits into the vision, how it will affect them, and how achieving it will help them to advance a part of their life that is important to them.

When I think of vision, I think of Omaze. In their offices, there’s a wall lined with childhood photos of all the employees. This is a reminder to the team to “bring their inner child to work every day” said cofounder and CEO Matt Pohlson. The imagination and ability to dream big that we possess as children are necessary for the team to carry out the company’s vision of “dream the world better.” How else do you come up with once-in-a-lifetime experiences like having a walk-on role in Star Wars or being handed Lamborghini keys by Pope Francis?

Research shows that leaders who inspire, ignite people’s imaginations, and mobilize them with a compelling vision are more impactful than managers who simply focus on the bottom line.

Instill confidence in your people

To be empowered, your people must feel confident in what they are doing, and they must understand how they fit into and are a critical part of, the overall team. You can instill confidence in two major ways.

First, acknowledge great work. If you don’t tell your people when they are doing things well, how are they supposed to grow confident in their abilities? Second, seek to challenge your people with new tasks and trust them to take more and more responsibility. People thrive on being challenged and being entrusted with more. As long as they are not pushed beyond their capabilities, this creates more confidence.

One great way to do this is to start making leaders out of your team members. Give them a specific responsibility to achieve, and ask them to organize a group of people to achieve it. Help them to become leaders in their own right, and teach them the methods of empowering the people whose assistance they call upon to achieve their goals.

When you ask more of your team and help guide them to success, they can feel their own growth and advancement, which instills confidence. A good leader is always looking for opportunities to do this.

Teach them to make each other better

Having an empowered culture means everyone shares this feeling. Creating such a culture is difficult if one leader has to do it all by themselves. You must teach every person on the team how to make the people around them better.

To accomplish this, teach each person how satisfying and rewarding it is to help others and how, by doing so, they become an indispensable part of the team. The best way to do this is to identify what people’s strengths are and then challenge them to teach their strengths to others.

You should constantly be looking for opportunities to help your people help the people around them. When I think of who shines at this, I think of VIPKid, which was named a top workplace for innovators in 2020. Erika Louie, the company’s U.S. HR Director, credits their “empowered community of passionate teachers.” One of the ways those teachers help the community is to onboard new teachers onto the platform. After all, who better to show new teachers the ropes than teachers who love their work and are using the platform every day?

When you task people with teaching others, it demonstrates your confidence in them, provides a chance for them to realize their own value to the team, teaches the task to a new person, and creates a deeper bond between the teacher and the student, which leads to a stronger team.

Share what’s going on

Have you ever discovered that someone had a party and you were not invited? Maybe you returned to school or work one day and someone said, “Wasn’t that a great party?” You ask yourself, “What party?” It’s happened to most of us, and it doesn’t feel good being left out.

As a leader, sharing with your people what is going on in the workplace means making sure no one ever has that feeling. But it’s more than that. When people are empowered, they feel like they are a critical part of the organization. They feel like an owner. Look at Tot Squad, a baby gear company that encourages all communication to happen in public, not private, so everyone is in the know. Or SquareFoot, where founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum holds a twice-weekly all-hands meeting where employees can ask any questions they want and discussion of the state of the business is not only encouraged, but expected.

It is essential to treat your people like owners, so they will feel and act like owners. This means letting them know every significant development—why we’re firing someone, why we’re hiring, what other changes they can expect, and any other subjects that may affect the workplace. Everyone feels more valued when they are in the know.

A source of true power

Empowerment isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. When people feel confident, encouraged, and motivated, they are happier, more motivated, and more effective at their jobs. They become the best version of themselves while performing at their full potential.

Creating this type of culture makes your job as the leader becomes infinitely easier. You no longer need to manage them or waste time “holding them accountable.” You can stop micromanaging and trust that your team will own what needs to be done. A culture of empowerment takes time and effort to build, but with these five steps, you can begin to build the kind of workplace that will level-up your business across the board.

Monty Moran is the former coCEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill. Prior to joining Chipotle, he was head of litigation and then managing partner and CEO at the Denver-based law firm of Messner and Reeves, LLC.

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Youth Hub out, Empowered Futures in


The Town Council is changing the focus of its plans for young people. The much-spoken of Youth Hub concept has been dumped in favour of a Town Council Youth Space. This does not seem to be, however, a drop-in centre.

Instead it will house council’s “Youth Programs team” and be the base for delivering its activities such as a Youth Employment Apprenticeship Program, the Phoney Festival, the YAG (Youth Action Group under a new format) and the “YEP”.

These details are included in a report to council by Director of Community Development Kim Sutton (pictured below) and apparently reflect the discussions by councillors and officers in the forum of November 9.

The “YEP” stands for Youth Empowerment Program about which Ms Sutton’s report contains no detail. Its name would suggest that this is the program associated with a Baha’i entity, which has caused Council CEO Robert Jennings, being also associated with the Baha’i community, to declare a conflict of interest in the matter.

In response to enquiries by the Alice Springs News in September this was how the program was described:

“The youth program was suggested by elders and community groups, as a proven program with strong community support.  It offers a world-renowned program that has been implemented both internationally and in Central Australia.

“With a fundamental purpose on [sic] empowering young people to improve, this program has many demonstrated benefits and is a fresh approach to the traditional youth programming run by Council.” [Emphasis added.]

Requests for further information have been turned down.

“Empowering”, “empowered” , the vocabulary suggests that the YEP’s principles will be pervasive of council’s whole approach, and yet the public continues to be kept in the dark, beyond this vague statement, about the program’s framework and credentials. 

The colourful policy document, including images pictured above, accompanying Ms Sutton’s report suggests that the YEP Pilot has been “completed”, incoherently adding in brackets “Covid-19 delays, TBA).

It is not clear whether a “Youth Council Camp”, also referred to as a “school holiday bootcamp”, is part of the YEP. The first such camp is planned for September 2021 school holidays.

The first intake for the Youth Employment Apprenticeship program will not be until January 2023.

Council is being asked to commit considerable resources to the plans, including the employment of a youth programs manager, to start in February next year, and two new youth programs officers, to start in June.

It plans to have the youth space “scoped” by June 2021 and opened by September, although this will depend on the location of a suitable space. The report talks about the former Tourism Central Australia building, the south-eastern corner of Traeger Park, the old Pool House building or a brand new facility as possibilities, estimated to cost between $500,000 and $2,500,000.

In the more immediate term, Ms Sutton recommends that council enter into an MOU with the Arrernte Community Boxing Academy and find them a suitable council-owned base in time for the summer holidays. The academy was formerly housed in the boxing shed at Traeger Park until it was condemned.

Ms Sutton also recommends that council approve an additional $75,000 from capital infrastructure reserves for the delivery of expanded youth programs and materials, and that council facilities be made available to local youth agencies and organisations, via the lnteragency Tasking and Co-Ordination Group.

Council’s existing (and by all reports successful) summer holiday programs will be delivered again, with some new features such as “Arrow Tag” on the grass fields at the Town Pool.

The various recommendations contained in the report will come before council in tomorrow night’s meeting. More then.

Meanwhile, Ms Sutton’s document says council supports the announcement of “a 24-hour Youth Hub” at 2 Railway Terrace, opened as a pilot project until March 2021 by the Territory Government. The Railway Terrace premises are the home for its Youth Outreach and Re-Engagement Teams (YORET).

According to Ms Sutton’s report, the facility will be open from 3pm Friday to 6pm Sunday, before running 24/7 during the summer school holidays: “This space provides fun activities after school and in the evening such as games and sports and quieter (less enticing) activities during school hours and overnight.

“They will coordinate with the Tangentyere night time buses (2:15am last departure). No accommodation is offered at this facility and those needing [sleeping] accommodation will be supported to be referred elsewhere.”

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How six-again rule has empowered referees

They are all fair dinkum today, in the sense that bias is rare, yet their power has been enhanced by a new ruck infringement rule which allows them to signal six more tackles for any one of multiple breaches in the play-the-ball.

Such infringements are not obvious because they are blown on the run and are often not published in statistics reports.

The ‘six again’ rule was introduced to reduce the impact of refereeing on NRL games but has actually empowered the whistleblowers further.Credit:Getty, NRL Photos

As one former referee of the 1980s said, “Their influence on the outcome of matches has come back to a degree but it is now more covert than overt.”

In the Rabbitohs’ record win over the Roosters in round 20, the Roosters scored the first try but both the penalty and ruck infringement count went against them 6-1 (a combined 12-2) and they lost 60-8.

Ruck infringements average about eight per game but there is a big difference, for example, between conceding a six again on the first tackle when the attacking team is coming off its own line, and receiving one on the last tackle when you have the ball deep in opposition territory.

The timing of them is also critical. Canberra “lost” the six again count to the Roosters 5-3 on Friday night but their first and third tries came as a result of ruck infringement against Jake Friend and Isaac Liu respectively giving the Raiders a 16-0 lead.

Jake Friend remonstrates with referee Ashley Klein during the Roosters' loss to Canberra on Friday.

Jake Friend remonstrates with referee Ashley Klein during the Roosters’ loss to Canberra on Friday.Credit:Getty

Champion Data also confirmed the Roosters’ final try came from a six again call against Joseph Tapine, setting up the final 22-18 scoreline.

Admittedly, the Rabbitohs’ 38-24 victory over the Eels the following evening did not turn on ruck infringements with a 5-4 count.

Six agains are very subjective. Coaches who review them post-match admit they find multiple examples of precisely the same infringement (hand on ball, slow peel, flop, holding down) which were not penalised.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley argues the purpose of the six again rule, combined with a single referee, was to take the influence of the match officials out of games. After all, if a referee can blow a ruck infringement on the run, rather than stop a match for a penalty, it reduces the exposure on him.

(It was also done to make the game more attractive for TV via fewer stoppages).

Yet referees are having more influence and their role, particularly in the first weekend of the finals, suggested the whistleblowers had more impact on the outcome of matches than the clipboard carriers.

Fatigue is a major factor in 2020. The six again rule has quickened the pace of the game, and all teams move up a gear at semi-final time.


A team with a clever hooker, half and five-eighth, benefiting from a six again call, can quickly set up a try against a gassed defence.

There is always a lag between a new rule being introduced and players adjusting to it. For example, no team has successfully executed the new 20:40 kick rule and only one has been attempted.

The semi-final teams, with superior players and coaches, are better able to exploit the opportunities of six again calls.

Furthermore, halves and five eighths are combining more, rather than remaining fixed to one side of the field.

Annesley admits another reason for the six again call was to break down the structure in games.

It has certainly achieved that with defences seemingly powerless to stop tries in the avalanche of points we have witnessed in the first two finals weekends.

While the great coaches will find a way of minimising the impact of the six again call, a rule introduced to reduce the influence of referees has, in fact, empowered them.

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How main street Uraidla empowered a community

From thriving local businesses to popular community events and planter boxes, the recent revitalisation of Uraidla’s main street has been a big feat for the small Adelaide Hills town.

Much of the rebirth can be attributed to the passion and hard work of local group, Imagine Uraidla (IU), which has been building community spirit since 2014.

Uraidla – home to market gardeners and fruit orchardists – had become a ghost town with local businesses including the hotel shutting their doors.

Resident Ben Hopkins and two other locals from the district saw the lack of activity as potential for greater community connection and a chance to help rebuild business interest.

A town meeting was called and 220 people – almost half the population – showed up.

“Imagine Uraidla was a call to action that engaged people in an inclusive, broad and relevant agenda, and sought to release folks from any sense of having to ask permission to try new things or do things differently,” Ben says.

“IU takes little credit for the lively and bustling main street that greets locals and visitors these days.

“But the street banners and planter boxes did serve to create a new sense of place and sent a message to prospective entrepreneurs that the local community was enthusiastic, willing to support their initiatives and help out where we could.”

Six years on from the first town meeting and Uraidla is revitalised with new and thriving businesses, community events and projects, and a stronger sense of social cohesiveness.

The derelict hotel was bought and renovated by owners who also established the Uraidla Republic Café, Bakery and Brewery next door.

The sleepy town was transformed into a foodie hotspot also home to popular wine and pizza bar Lost in a Forest, the newly renovated Uraidla Pantry, and eclectic café Stall 1195.

The main street became greener and tidier as IU volunteers installed planter boxes and colourful street banners.

Residents brainstorm for the future of Uraidla at the town meeting.

Imagine Uraidla has a solid base of 10 committee members who meet regularly to reflect and plan how else the town can flourish.

Imagine Uraidla’s chair Jess De Campo says the group is also a strong communications hub by promoting fellow community groups such as the CFS, along with local events and fundraisers. About 600 residents from the surrounding areas including Basket Range, Summertown, Piccadilly and Carey Gully are signed up to the IU newsletter.

“What has always been nice about IU is that it doesn’t just have a focus on the physical structures and businesses, but it’s about how having a lively main street can help enable a more thriving and connected community,” Jess says.

“I think what IU has shown people is that they are powerful and that their community is a great place to live.”

Last year IU held its second big town hall meeting, where locals set a vision for Uraidla for the next few years. From that sparked four separate community sub-groups including a walking and bike riding tracks and trails group, a sustainability action group, Uraidla Institute revitalisation group and Hills Folk Festival group.

Each group is empowered to bring about change or improve offerings to locals whether it be through music, environmental initiatives or better facilities.

“It’s nice now the community has identified projects they want to work on and there is interest groups formed around these,” Jess says.

“IU is supporting these groups by helping them apply for grants and making connections to government.

“We aren’t driving the action – the community is empowered to chase after the projects that are important to them.”

While the current global pandemic may have slowed down foot traffic along Uraidla’s main street, Jess says such events reinforce the importance of empowered and connected communities.

“I think the events this year from the bushfires to COVID-19 have shown how important community connection is,” she says.

“That’s on what community resilience is founded upon.”

Regional Showcase is supporting South Australia’s rural communities by telling their stories and celebrating their successes. We will compile these stories and then later in the year we will celebrate the best of South Australia’s regions at a special showcase event.

Voting will soon begin to determine your favourite story from the series.

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