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Sharing what you know - How to be an enabler at work
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Sharing what you know - How to be an enabler at work

Ryan Carruthers
June 21, 2024

Business enablers have been described as internal entrepreneurs. They are seen as essential to accomplish organizational goals. They are innovative, supportive, encouraging, and vital to business improvement.   

When thinking about teams, there are the implementors, who are actively getting things done. But for them to do their best work and not be slowed down they need someone to clear the way for them. That’s where business enablers come in. The best-selling author Josh Kaufmen explains that “[e]nablers are the people who help the implementers focus on implementing.” They support implementers by removing barriers to their productivity and being a coach and mentor when times get tough. 

Enablers are crucial to building a high-performing team. Don’t we all want to be enablers at work? To paint more of a picture of what a business enabler is, the Forbes Columnist, John Brandon is convinced enabling is the defining factor of great leadership:

“When you enable others, you provide all of the tools for the job, you create the ideal environment for success, you step aside and let the employees do the hard work and get the credit, and you become more like the wind that moves a boat through rough waters, rather than the captain of the ship who is always in charge.”

Business enablers are the unsung heroes behind a successful business. 

This article will outline the difference between a bad enabler (in the clinical sense) and a good enabler (that is, a business enabler). We’ll explore how business enablers are intrinsic to leadership and how you can develop the skills to become a business enabler yourself. Throughout the article, we will talk about how to be an enabler at work we’ll include lots of examples of situations where you can choose to be an enabler or not. 

Let’s dive in!

How to be an enabler at work

How to be an enabler at work

The difference between a bad enabler and good enabler at work

This article is all about enablers in business and how to be an enabler at work. Despite all the great things we’ve already said about business enablers the term enabler isn’t at all good. There’s a difference between a bad enabler and good enabler at work. Here’s why:

A Bad Enabler

In a negative context, an enabler can be someone who supports someone else’s bad behaviour or even addiction. They avoid the hard conversations about the behaviour of someone else and instead provide them with the means to continue their destructive behaviour. They may even provide financial support, so the destructive behaviour continues. Bad enablers make excuses for the person they are supporting. 

The reputable wellness publication, Healthline defines enablers as:

“Someone whose behavior allows a loved one to continue self-destructive patterns of behavior.”

Enablers want to help, but, despite their good intentions, they fail to actually help the person they care about. They may believe that without their help (or what they think is help) the person who’s suffering from an addiction or negative habit would be worse off. Healthline lists several indicators of negative enabling behavior:

  1. Ignoring or tolerating problematic behavior.
  2. Providing financial assistance.
  3. Brushing things off.
  4. Not maintaining your stated boundaries.
  5. Feeling resentment toward the person they’re supposed to help.

These indicators reveal a flawed mindset around what is best for the other person. Now that we know what an enabler is in the negative context let’s move to shed light on what a good enabler is in business. 

A Good Enabler

An enabler is a leader or manager who supports their team and helps them accomplish their goals in a positive context. They don’t hold their teams back but clear the way to do what they do best. The best leaders give their team an understanding of why their work is essential. These managers help team members to contribute fully. 

An enabling leader takes the team’s vision to the rest of the company as an advocate. They work to build bridges and cultivate cooperation and goodwill with others in the organization. Enablers also aim to remove obstacles to their team’s success. Both enablers create the opportunity for individuals or teams to act. Whether that’s good or bad depends on the context. Let’s explore what an enabler in leadership is.

What is an enabler in leadership?

In leadership, enabling separates the good ones from the great ones. An enabler leadership styles ensures their team has all the tools to get the job done, creating the ideal environment for success. Moreover, they don’t allow their egos to get in the way. Instead, they allow the employees to do the hard work and take credit for a job well done. 

These enablers are valuable for the organization. They are committed to finding ways to engage others to tackle problems or issues that impact the company. Leaders like this want to see everyone working constructively to accomplish the goal. Enabling leaders will also stand up for their team. They are not in it for fame, glory, or even career building. It is about letting others shine and being humble enough to step back out of the way. 

This is the kind of leadership that books are written about. They also lead the kinds of organizations that people want to work for. It’s a type of servant leadership that cares about their people and emphasises the importance of mentoring them to build the skills of leadership. 

It should be clear by now that the skill of enabler leadership style is closely tied to the definition of a business enabler. They don’t dictate, but share what they know and allow for those they lead to realising their own potential. Let’s make this more real by looking at examples of how to be a good enabler.

Examples of how to be a good enabler

Here are several scenarios how to be a good enabler at work.

1. Building bridges

Enablers at work aim to build bridges between their team and others. Cultivating cooperative relationships with stakeholders and peer groups allow employees to achieve goals quicker and easier. Some examples of how an enabler works include:

  • Asking for feedback to see how the team could improve.
  • Building relationships with peers, looking for ways to solve problems as an organization, not just a team.
  • Sharing team successes with company leadership to show how the team brings value to the organization.

2. Breaking down barriers

Leaders looking to enable their teams for success will also work to break down barriers. Examples of this include:

  • Asking for feedback from the team to uncover what is holding them back from high performance.
  • Eliminate physical or political barriers that hinder the team from engaging peers and other stakeholders in the company.
  • Watch for any element of the process that could hold the team back.

3. Knowledge sharing

Enabler leaders value knowledge sharing. Examples of how they support knowledge sharing include:

  • Encouraging a team member to help train other employees on a new technique or software.
  • Helping an employee prepare for an important interview.
  • Providing opportunities for flash mentoring sessions.

How do I know if I am a good enabler?

By this point in the article, you may probably know how to be an enabler at work wish that either you could learn how to be a good enabler or your managers could. It’s possible. You can learn the skills and hallmarks of the best business enabler. 

In the same way that leaders aren’t born, but made, great enablers can learn the skills that make them indispensable on their teams and within their organizations. Let’s look at the four signs that you’re a good and can be the best enabler.

1. Self-Awareness

Enablers have a good understanding of what makes them tick. This self-awareness helps them know why they behave the way they do and can be vital in understanding what motivates other employees

2. Collaborative

To solve problems, team enablers know two brains are better than one. They value collaboration and seek to build a team that considers each other as equals in the process of solving business problems. They encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing that helps the whole team rather than being self-serving.

3. Value others

Everyone is unique and brings their own strengths to the table. Good enablers recognize this and are able to assess the qualities of others accurately. Enabler leaders are also adept at showing respect to others on their team by knowing when to listen and when to speak. They’re able to see the potential in others and nurture that potential so they can realize it. 

4. Team player

Good enablers lack big egos, which makes them great team leaders. As a part of a team, these leaders understand that they don’t always have all the answers. Rather, they are able to let others on the team take over if they are better able to deal with a situation. This is because they don’t need to prove their worth by retaining their status. They are able to defer to others because their focus is on achieving the goal

The overarching quality of a team enabler is that they are focused on the betterment of their team and organization rather than themselves alone. They know that all ships rise with the tide, so, by helping others, it comes back around. 

Does this sound like you?

Some of the questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are you willing to set aside your career aspirations and give others an opportunity to succeed? 
  • Are you taking actions that will help the team accomplish their goal or are you too focused on getting credit? 

Ask yourself 'How to be an enabler at work' and the answer is to be humble enough to step out of the spotlight and allow others to shine. Consider taking a CIPD course to enhance your enabling skills."

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