empowerment1.jpgEmpowerment is a nice-sounding word that has been used a lot in recent decades. But what does it mean? Particularly in the context of the work environment?

Empowerment means, literally, to give power or to be the recipient of power. In business, empowerment generally refers to the concept of pushing authority and responsibility further down the chain of command than traditionally is the case.

When I was young, starting out as a “boss,” I attempted to empower people somewhat willy-nilly with predictably mixed results. Worked like a charm sometimes, was a disaster at other times.

Lest you think I was some sort of enlightened leadership savant, I was primarily attempting to empower people because I was a young man operating a start-up business on a shoestring, and I did not have the resources for the traditional hierarchical oversight structure. Necessity was the mother of innovation. Also, I was a bit unconventional, a driven self-starter who did not like to have someone standing over my shoulder, so I assumed everyone was the same way.

Over time, as I retrospectively analyzed my empowerment successes and failures, I came to understand the blindingly obvious: What seemed like a simple concept was actually quite complex to execute properly.

When you hand people power and responsibility you have to make sure that you include:
– sufficient orientation and training
– crystal-clear clarity on the guidelines and guardrails
– clear-cut understanding on the targets and goals (minimum acceptable achievement vs. WOW levels)
– reporting requirements and feedback expectations
– measurement criteria
– accountability checkpoints
– rewards and consequences

Hey, empowerment was hard work! I wanted to empower people to REDUCE my workload, not add to it. Empowerment required planning and thinking and communication and follow through. Major bummer.

I actually had to sit down and think through exactly what was my desired result. Since I was a hands-on, short attention span guy who typically just plunged in and figured it out as I went along, this was a major challenge. It made my head spin to have to list things and diagram my thoughts but I was a better supervisor, a better boss for it, no matter how much I hated doing it. I realized it was a necessary step that lay between me and my goals, so I disciplined myself to do it. Not all at once, and certainly not as fast or as thoroughly as I should have, but I did do it.

Empowerment can be a great source of job satisfaction. Any time you give people more control over their work, expand their horizons, enlarge their scope, you have created more opportunities for personal and professional growth.

It is my experience that empowerment has application not only in business but also has a parallel in personal relationships. It’s really all about clear communication, aligning goals and expectations, creating a shared vision, building trust, and nurturing mutual understanding.

Where or how can you empower others? Help bring out their best? Is there an opportunity for you to understand the needs and fears of your supervisor well enough to be entrusted with greater authority and responsibility that will enrich your work experience? Can you communicate that understanding, that commitment, that alignment to the organization’s goals effectively enough so the organization is comfortable empowering you?

Closing Quotes:

“The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.” — Bill Gates

“The beauty of empowering others is that your own power is not diminished in the process.” — Barbara Colorose