This month, I would like to explore the concept of EMPOWERMENT. This became a buzzword for the nineties, along with other management concepts, such as de-layering, re-engineering and even, dare I say it, “leadership” itself! Many organisations embraced the concept and empowered their people, but the results have not been inspiring.
Empowered staff often complain that they are not really empowered, as decisions are still taken by their bosses. Managers complain that empowered workers ignore the rules and are quick to explain that they “tried empowerment”, but that it just did not work. Leaders need to anticipate the needs of those that have been empowered. How will others react to them, will they want confirmation from “the boss”, will they resent their authority? Leaders and others may also need to show greater tolerance for mistakes and support people, so that they are able to learn from their experiences.
A useful metaphor is a teenager who becomes “empowered” through having greater independence, often financially as well as socially. As parents, we recognise the need to set boundaries, to gradually develop trust in our sons or daughters, to tolerate their occasional mistake and for them to know that we will always be there for them. But as managers, we can often operate with a different set of rules. We do not outline the “do’s and don’ts”. When people fail, we take back control (after all, it was a daft idea, anyway!) and if things get tough, we are not always supportive.
Think about how you have empowered those who work for you. Have you provided them with the support, at both a day-to-day level and also at an emotional level? Are they flourishing, as would a growing adult, or are they floundering like a child in the wilderness?
- Spend some time thinking about the people that you manage?
- How are they coping with the degree of “empowerment” that you have given them?
- Have you outlined the “rules-of-the-game” (both written and unwritten) within your company or are they stumbling into problems on a regular basis? If not, jot down some of the rules and discuss them at the next opportunity.
- How are you supporting them on a regular basis? Do you share their experiences and discuss ways of improving things next time?
- How do you react to mistakes? Do you support them? Are you there to help when things go wrong – in a way that is constructive?
Be sure to treat them as individuals, since they will be at different stages and will have differing needs. Finally, consider the benefits that effectively empowered staff will offer to you. Perhaps, more time to think strategically or to network with others outside your company or even the chance to occasionally go home early!
Write these down, as they will be useful reminders to you when you are tempted to abandon empowerment and to take control back again!
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