How Do You Get People to Step Up?

stepsYou want people to step up, take on more responsibility, and think things through more fully. You and almost every leader (and parent) want to make this happen. Requesting and demanding people to reach higher and think more broadly for themselves does not work. So what makes people see what needs to be done and then take action without you having to push them? Your effectiveness depends on what they choose to do even more than on how you ask them.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Make Your Team Feel Powerful, Harrison Monarth said that leadership support, recognition, constant communication, and trust were essential to creating a thriving environment where everyone felt they could make a real difference in the organization.

It is true that offering people real autonomy so they have the chance to feel more powerful is your best chance to buck the trend of disengagement and apathy. Most people crave a sense of control over their situations.

Unfortunately, after a few disappointments and disrespectful interactions, people often resign themselves to feeling out of control. Or they rebel in unproductive ways. Then we think they are lazy or clueless.

Simply telling people who have had bad experiences that they now have autonomy does not insure they feel powerful. Their lack of confidence can keep them from doing what they know is needed. They could feel pressured when you delegate more authority to them. They might feel even more helpless when you recognize their efforts and tell them that you trust they can do more but they aren’t sure they can meet your expectations. Being their cheerleader isn’t enough; you could scare or annoy them more than inspire them.

It’s never up to you to make people feel anything! What you can do is to discover how they feel now and then work with them to discover ways that would help them feel more confident, hopeful, and powerful going forward.

1. Examine your judgments. Do you believe the person can step up and be more than he or she is demonstrating now? You have to believe in the person’s potential even if they don’t believe in themselves. People who challenge us with courage, care, respect, and a belief in our power inspire us to give more.

2. Shift your emotion and mind set. Are you angry or disappointed with the person? When you begin your conversation, you must set the emotional tone. How do you want him or her to feel—inspired, excited, proud, or encouraged? You must authentically feel this emotion yourself as you speak. Be careful not to lose your emotional grounding; choose one emotion word as your anchor. If something unnerves you, say this word quietly to yourself to shift back to the feeling you want to express.

3. Use coaching skills of reflecting and questioning to help them explore their limiting thoughts. You can’t help people step out of their boxes until you help them see the box they are living in. With respect, trust, and care, inquire about how they see their role, what they want for themselves, what they fear could happen if they acted differently, what they are focusing on now, and what they need from you before they take on more. Allowing them to think out loud without judgment will help them explore, examine, and hopefully change their beliefs and behavior. Then letting them know what you believe they can do and offering to support them in taking on more authority as well as responsibility will be better received.

Flexibility, creativity, and a desire to take action comes from feeling safe to take risks, feeling trusted to work independently, and feeling confident that the end result will be good even if there are learning pains along the way. Effective leaders know how to help people shift emotionally so they want to step up on their own.


Look for more tips on helping people shift how they see themselves and their work in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs.

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