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3 Impactful Ways that Leaders Can Contribute to the Independent Development of Their Employees

3 Impactful Ways that Leaders Can Contribute to the Independent Development of Their Employees 34


3 Impactful Ways that Leaders Can Contribute to the Independent Development of Their Employees 35

By Zach Smith, the Chief Activation Officer + Co-Founder of Activate 180

As a leader, it is a natural tendency to believe that you need to be the one that has all the answers and makes the big decisions. While there are times that call for that, building a culture where everyone on your team feels empowered to contribute ideas, tap into their strengths, and guide others helps activate optimal team performance and creates opportunities for people to develop their own abilities. Below, I’ll dive into three impactful ways that leaders can contribute to the independent development of their employees.

Psychological Safety

Psychological safety was found to be the number one factor influencing high-performing teams during Project Aristotle, a two-year comprehensive study at Google intended to find out what makes teams successful. In a psychologically safe work environment, individuals feel as though they have the opportunity to share ideas and take interpersonal risks with their coworkers without fear of negative consequences toward their self-image, status, or career. Cultivating psychological safety directly translates to building a high-trust culture, and high-trust cultures result in 76% more engagement, 106% more energy at work, and 50% higher productivity.

Creating a workplace culture where people feel safe admitting mistakes, communicating their perspectives openly, and where they share the common belief that we learn and grow from failure is huge for enhancing innovation and decision-making. If employees feel at-risk when they make mistakes, they will get in the habit of placing blame on others and not taking personal responsibility. This makes individuals less likely to share diverse views or ideas which affects how the group makes decisions and limits the total capabilities and decision-making for the collective group.

In the new age of remote and hybrid work, perceived security when collaborating with others remains the biggest factor affecting performance. If team members feel comfortable sharing their innovative thoughts, needs, and concerns with others, the team will cooperate successfully regardless of distance. Yet, if some employees feel they cannot communicate with their peers because they fear reprisal, the team will be unable to perform at the same level.

Recognizing Strengths

By building psychological safety and a high-trust culture, leaders are creating a space for team members to tap into and contribute their own unique strengths. It is possible to create a more efficient and high-performing team by recognizing and encouraging individuals to lean into their talents. When people use their strengths daily, they are three times more likely to report an excellent quality of life and six times more engaged in work. However, only 17% of workers report being able to use their strengths at work.

To close this gap, employees must push themselves to converse with their coworkers and leaders about what their strengths are and which capabilities they want to utilize in their careers. When employees approach leaders, it is crucial for them to respond in a way that reinforces feelings of security and offers helpful advice. To help employees identify their interests, have them list activities throughout their day that are “energy gainers” and “energy drainers”. Energy gain activities fuel individuals while energy drain activities leave them exhausted, so it is important to prioritize the inclusion of as many energy gain activities as possible in an employee’s schedule. Of course, there will always be necessary components of a job that aren’t on the energy gain list, but if workers find out what activities are energizing and share this information with leaders it will help leaders assign more engaging tasks, allowing individuals to contribute optimally to the performance of their teams.


When employees are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and connect their responses to previous wisdom shared by their leaders, they feel a greater sense of self-confidence and more trust in their relationships with their leaders. Further, there is a sense of empowerment that comes from having a leader walking alongside them as opposed to taking control of tough situations. To aid individuals in their journey to empowerment, leaders should shift from giving associates all of the answers to coaching and asking the right probing questions. This empowers employees to critically think, strategize, and believe in themselves. 

The skills which result from practicing self-assurance are lifelong, enabling individuals to make decisions that better fulfill their needs and help those around them. This results in stronger relationships, better collaboration, increased productivity, and long-term fulfillment.

Next Steps

In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, leaders must proactively show that they value the humanity in their workers. This means leaders need to stay close and connected to their people, recognizing that everyone is going through their own challenges and that definitions of success are diverse. To drive success, leaders must understand – on a personal level – what drives people, what support looks like to them, and what might be limiting their ability to become the best versions of themselves. Then, it is crucial for leaders to act on this knowledge and support employees in their personal and professional evolutions.

Author Bio:

Zach Smith is the Chief Activation Officer + Co-Founder of Activate 180. He has been a trusted voice in mindset, career optimization, and leadership coaching for over 10 years. Zach has coached thousands of employees across mid-market and enterprise-level organizations, aligning their careers with true calling and passion to create total life fulfillment.

Before becoming an award-winning coach, Zach spent more than 10 years in senior marketing and client relationship management roles for well-known, international consumer beverage brands. Zach trained with the Ascension Leadership Academy’s coaching program, graduating from their highest level course. He is a sought-after keynote speaker who regularly appears before audiences at industry conferences and events.

Zach currently resides in San Diego, California with his partner Rachel. He has a passion for an active lifestyle, photography, art, travel, and sports like rock climbing, snowboarding, and yoga. Zach received a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


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