3 Ways to Empower Your Teams (and Why Needed More than Ever Now)

An experienced executive shares advice for fellow leaders on how to establish a culture of openness, creativity, and respect.

Chitra Balasubramanian, Chief Financial Officer, CircleCI

July 13, 2022

4 Min Read
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Romolo Tavani via Adobe Stock

The tech industry has come a long way in creating a more balanced and inclusive environment. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In fact, a recent study of more than 36,200 tech workers found that two in five employees want to quit due to excessive stress, exhaustion, and a broken work-life balance.

So how can organizations and tech leaders better support and empower their teams?

Throughout my career, I’ve seen where exemplary leadership and a strong support system can make a lasting impact and open doors for greater opportunities. As leaders, we must uplift teams and support employees in achieving their goals.

Here are three ways you can start empowering employees in your workplace.

1. Lead with empathy and encourage curiosity

Our differences are the source of great strength, creativity, and knowledge. This is well known to science and through leadership studies, but it must be heard loud and clear across all organizations. With diversity comes more creativity, and a leader’s role is to use their power and privilege to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. To do this, leaders must lead with empathy and curiosity.

Today, many of us are dealing with financial, economic, and political turmoil and the lasting impact of the pandemic on our daily lives. As leaders, it’s critical to understand what your employees are going through and how you can help them thrive at work despite this. Creating a flexible environment where teams can have exceptional experiences and are comfortable is key.

Be open and honest with teams about when you as a leader make a mistake or think you could have done something better. Allow your teams to see that you relate to and understand them. This will encourage a positive environment and help foster trust and shared purpose.

People-related issues, such as differences in opinion, style, and management are among the most significant challenges a leader may face. Practicing curiosity as a leader and encouraging your employees to stay curious can lead to new opportunities for growth, discovery, and feedback. Learning to be curious and empathic is a real superpower and can make all the difference.

2. Build a framework for openness

Teams can only be flexible when they are supported by the right tools and have the trust to experiment and grow. Leaders set the tone from the top, and a framework for openness can help teams feel more empowered in meetings and comfortable at work.

To build a framework for openness, establish open dialogues with your employees, and request feedback often. Check in with employees and ask how they are feeling, what has been working for them and what hasn’t, what they appreciate, and what they wish could be better. These are simple things to do that go a long way in helping create a culture of belonging where they feel supported to do their best work.

People need to believe in themselves and understand that career advancement comes from working through challenges previously considered unattainable. With an open culture, colleagues are more encouraged to share their roadblocks, mistakes, or successes.

3. Take advantage of remote mentorship opportunities

Remote work may have separated us physically, but it has also broken down barriers and enabled us to be more connected than ever. There's a common misconception that mentorship is best done in person. However, I've seen and experienced firsthand the positive benefits of mentorship in our remote-first world.

While there are nuances to this environment, I've observed a few key things that have made remote mentorships more impactful for both sides.

For those seeking mentorship, identify a clear goal and the challenges you seek to navigate. Mentorship can take many forms, including short-term aid for a job search, long-run career advancement, and even ongoing, informal “phone a friend” support, so it’s important to align on your goals for the relationship at the outset. With a broader network of mentors to choose from, it’s even more important to identify your goals to more easily pinpoint the mentorship you need.

For those looking to mentor, know your strengths and be realistic about what you can commit. For many of us, the switch to remote environments has brought on new challenges, schedules, and workloads. One of the easiest mistakes you can make is to over-promise and then not be able to follow through when your mentee needs you. Be sure to evaluate your bandwidth and the types of settings you communicate well in. For example, do you prefer to offer personalized guidance one-on-one or through group mentorship? It’s just as important for mentors to be as comfortable with the arrangement as it is for mentees.

So many changes are taking place in 2022, and they are sure to result from complex challenges that need both people and technology for solutions. Business leaders across all sectors must constantly reassess and refine strategies around productivity, hybrid working, and collaboration to grow and improve in a changing world.

About the Author(s)

Chitra Balasubramanian

Chief Financial Officer, CircleCI

With more than 20 years’ experience accelerating business growth through data analysis, Chitra Balasubramanian is best known for scaling technology startups. As the current chief financial officer at CircleCI, she is responsible for overseeing the company's general & administrative functions across the globe. Chitra serves on the Board of Trustees for the Computer History Museum. She is a certified public accountant and holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

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