Empowerment (Not Just Another Buzzword)
Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not the one who does the greatest things. The greatest leader is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.”[i] He also said, “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere…”[ii]
I wanted to use this post to discuss The process of empowerment, the guiding principles of workplace empowerment and empowerment in management. Empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices, and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.[iii] In today’s workplace, people quite often endure the absence of empowerment and carry on like robots doing as they are told. Empowerment unleashes an individual’s potential and enhances [their] ability to promote creativity and productivity in the organization.[iv] Some might call empowerment a buzzword. But, empowerment is being increasingly embraced by more and more managers and leaders in both the military and the corporate World. And, quite honestly, people are hungry for empowerment.
Decision-making in many organizations and corporations is currently too top-heavy. Decisions need to be pushed down to the lowest level possible. But, in some instances, managers and executives are afraid to relinquish some of their authority. They feel that doing so would be too risky, fearing that they would have less power, diminished control or might lose their job. But, the true risk is to not embrace some form of an empowerment process.
Empowering others is essentially the process of turning followers into leaders. Through empowerment, there are fewer levels of decision-making. As a result, there are reduced levels of bureaucracy, and organizational pyramids are flattened. Managers trust employees to make decisions, and the staff trust managers and feel supported in their decisions. In some instances, procedures and guidelines are generated by the people who perform the work every day. Through empowerment, good ideas and decisions are implemented faster. Ultimately, empowerment creates confident and competent employees who are more productive because they are not waiting for approval to make decisions.
General George S. Patton saw empowerment this way:
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
Patton believed in exploiting, encouraging, and rewarding individual initiative. Patton saw leadership as mostly training and motivation. The object of leadership is to create people who know their jobs and who can reliably supply the how to your what.[v]
But, empowerment is not something you just simply turn on like a light switch among your staff. You don’t show up one day and say, “you, the people, are now empowered!” For all involved (leaders, managers, employees, etc.), it is a process of education, knowledge and experience, where the staff is provided the criterion which directs them in making decisions in their respective jobs, areas of expertise and departments. If the staff has the basic guidelines, they should be able to make educated and informed decisions without having to go to the next level. As a result, the customer is served, or the mission is accomplished, more quickly and effectively, and managers are freed to make decisions that really require their level of expertise.
It is in this way that all staff has the information they need to be truly empowered to collaborate effectively. A process is developed to continue the culture change so that there is true empowerment for informed decision-making. Through this empowerment process, a new organizational culture is established; a culture where management encourages teamwork and risk taking, and employees can establish teams where they see the need. From this teamwork, creativity and initiative are fostered.
As leaders, we should strive to cultivate leadership not only in ourselves, but in those we are responsible to lead. As leaders, we shouldn’t think that we have all of the answers. As leaders, we don’t know everything. As leaders, we should be surrounding ourselves with capable, knowledgeable people who can take much of the decision-making burden off our shoulders; where employees own their work and are more accountable for outcomes.
As a result of employee empowerment:
- Micro-management is virtually eliminated
- Productivity in the workplace increases
- Creativity and innovation within the organization is cultivated
- Employee morale is improved, and there is greater job satisfaction
- The leader – follower (management – employee) relationship is strengthened
- There becomes an environment where future leaders are developed and nurtured for the future.
When people are empowered with the knowledge and tools to be successful doing their jobs, their confidence breaks down the intimidation of any task, and they are energized to do their jobs well. When people know that the leash is off their neck, and their boss is not breathing down their neck, they become some of the strongest and happiest people. Empowerment is about making sure that people are well-trained, they have the tools to do the job, and are given the autonomy to take risks and to think outside the box. A truly empowered team can do great things, and as leaders we need to stand back and let them succeed.
[i] Interview with Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes, December 14, 1975
[ii] Ronald Reagan, September 15, 1986, in an interview with “Fortune” magazine, describing his management style – Cover Story: Reagan on Decision-Making, Planning, Gorbachev, and More
[iii] Empowerment - PovertyNet – http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTEMPOWERMENT/0,,menuPK:486417~pagePK:149018~piPK:149093~theSitePK:486411,00.html - Accessed 2 May 2012 – The World Bank – http://web.worldbank.org/
[iv] Hungry for Empowerment – Posted May 4, 2012 – http://sidtuli.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/hungry-for-empowerment/ – Accessed 7 May 2012 – Sidtuli blog on WordPress – http://sidtuli.wordpress.com/
[v] Axelrod, Alan. Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. Page 165. Also, War As I Knew It (1947) by George S. Patton, “Reflections and Suggestions”
*Portions of this blog post were adapted from a presentation entitled, “Empowerment & Decision-Making – Building a Framework for the Future.” This presentation can be found at the link http://www.maine.gov/labor/bendthecurve/minutes/empowerment.pdf, through the State of Maine’s Department of Labor website (http://www.maine.gov/labor/), and their Bend the Curve initiative.
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