How to Empower – 5 Key Considerations

We were with an Executive Leadership Team recently, discussing empowerment. It’s one of those words that everyone uses but doesn’t have a clear definition.
Here are some thoughts:

  • Authority or power given to someone to do something
  • The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights
  • Sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance
  • How do you define it?

Based upon the discussion, here are 5 key considerations for empowerment:

  1. Are You Giving Power Away (or maintaining control) – you can be in charge without being in control. A leader can say that they want their people to be empowered, but if there is no power given away there is no empowerment.
  2. Do You Share Information Generously? Communication is critical. It’s great to tell people they are empowered but if they do not have the information they need, they can’t take initiative and move forward. Full Circle Communication is important. This means you are sharing information and then checking to make sure that people have received the message correctly, and fully understand. If you don’t ask whether your team has sufficient information, how will you know?
  3. Have You Clarified Expectations? A significant area of friction in many organizations is decision rights. No one knows who can make which decisions. Imagine that a line manager makes a decision, and it gets reversed because she didn’t have the authority. The next time she sees an opportunity, she will remember what happened the last time and avoid making a decision. Be clear on what is expected, and the scope of authority people have. You can’t say “you are empowered” and then challenge every action that’s taken.
  4. Do You Build or Destroy Trust with Your Words and Actions? Too many organizations have a defensive culture that creates whispers in the background. People are battling perceptions instead of focusing on achieving. What is your impact on others? Are you creating an environment where it is safe to take risks? How do you respond when your team doesn’t do what you want? Do you support and coach, or criticize and condemn?
  5. Development – empowerment isn’t just about getting better results. It’s about greater levels of employee capability, commitment and satisfaction. The more you empower your people, the more capability they will develop, and the more results get accomplished. Focus on the people and they will focus on what matters most.

As a leader, are you encouraging mediocrity or excellence through your behavior? Define what empowerment means to you and then act. Your behavior creates a culture. Consider whether that culture helps or hinders empowerment.

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