Empowerment: Getting Behind The Many Misunderstandings Of This Powerful Organisational Capability

Why don’t the people in my team show more empowerment? Why doesn’t my manager give me more empowerment? This common cri de coeur is often built on a misunderstanding of what empowerment really is about:
Empowerment is not a synonym for delegation. Delegation is about giving authority and responsibility but not accountability to someone. Empowerment goes a step further by ceding accountability as well.

  1. Empowerment is a two-way street. It can only be given to people who are looking for it. It can only be taken from organisations (or particular managers) prepared to give it.
  2. It is more about mind-set than technique.
  3. Empowerment will not work in a Parent/Child Culture, only in an Adult/Adult one. You cannot tell people to be more empowered; neither can you obtain it by constantly complaining about its absence.
  4. Empowerment naturally thrives where there is high ownership, because empowerment is a synonym for accountability.
  5. Empowerment is about wanting to take control of something and being prepared to own the outcome.
  6. It’s never about doing what is asked, but always about doing what it takes.
  7. Empowerment also thrives in values driven culture, because an organisation’s values create a ‘permissive space’ for desirable behaviours. Rules based cultures achieve the opposite effect, constraining people to stay within set boundaries.
  8. Empowerment feeds more empowerment, because extended licence is obtained through successful disobedience, or something we more commonly call initiative.
  9. Taking empowerment requires people to have ambition for their role so they can stretch themselves, to take more on, to show what they are capable of. People who only want to do their job will see the language of empowerment simply as a ‘con’, being asked to do more without any benefit to them. This also might make them more visible, which can be dangerous.
  10. Empowerment also naturally occurs where leadership is present, because self confidence and confidence in team members promotes the taking on of new tasks and perhaps failing before getting it right. Leaders constantly create opportunities for this.
  11. The same goes for organisations that have a coaching culture. A good coach will be someone who makes people feel they are empowered, because they will encourage people to believe in themselves.

To summarise, empowerment is about a compact of understanding between the organisation and the employee.