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.

PattonGeneral 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:

  1. Micro-management is virtually eliminated
  2. Productivity in the workplace increases
  3. Creativity and innovation within the organization is cultivated
  4. Employee morale is improved, and there is greater job satisfaction
  5. The leader – follower (management – employee) relationship is strengthened
  6. 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.

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson

Footnotes –

[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.


Related Articles and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Reading –

Hungry for Empowerment (sidtuli.wordpress.com)

6 Steps to Sustainable Leadership: Feedback Mechanisms (linked2leadership.com)

8 Ways to Find Freedom (leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

10 Strategies for Building Confidence in Others (leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

Believe in Empowerment? Then Just Do It! (km4meu.wordpress.com)

Delegation and Empowerment (prmarketingcommunication.com)

Enlightened Empowerment (myraqa.com/blog)

The Benefits of Employee Empowerment (cutimes.com)

Cover Story: Reagan on Decision-Making, Planning, Gorbachev, and More (money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune)

Need Some Advice? (managebetternow.com)

Creating A Culture Of Civility (managebetternow.com)

Dropping Keys? (m100group.wordpress.com)

Surround Yourself with High Quality Employees (cambridgeprofessionals.com)

16 Responses to “Empowerment (Not Just Another Buzzword)”

  1. Great article Dale, thanks! Kind of too long to my taste, but all in all I read it, liked it and LOVED the last paragraphs:-) Cheers!


    • Thanks, Pasi. I’m glad you liked the article. I’ll take your comment on the length constructively, and will try to keep the blog posts to a three minute read. Good advice. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog.



      • Taking Chris Brogan’s advice and having my email as my homebase I’ve subscribed to your updates > I’m right here actively waiting for your next great post. Keep up the good spirit!


  2. You might have to turn this into an ebook. The amount of valuable information in here for future entrepreneurs is stunning.

    Keep up the great posting.


  3. kmabarrett Says:

    One of my favorite Patton quotes!


  4. Lori Gilmore Says:

    Very Good Article. I just conducted a class on Empowerment earlier this week. Ironically, supervisors were not real excited about it. They called it “another buzz word.” Look forward to reading more and for sure interested in the book!


    • Thank you, Lori, for you comment. In future classes with skeptical supervisors, maybe you can share this post with them. I hope you took the opportunity to check out the ‘Related Articles’ I shared at the end of the post. Those additional resources of information build on what I spoke about here. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog, and I look forward to your future contributions to the discussion.



  5. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com – Today, 7:21 […]


  6. Steve Borek Says:

    The leader needs to show confidence in the team. He/she needs to believe the person is capable.

    Once you approach a person with doubt or maybe’s, the relationship is busted.


  7. Linda Galindo Says:

    “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.” The challenge for me with this definition is that it implies that empowerment comes from outside of the individual. The moment an audience hears that…they sit back and fold their arms.

    My daughter at the age of four demonstrated to me what empowerment is and how it works (or doesn’t). (See “Lea’s Leap” in The 85% Solution). My insight that “you cannot empower other people” became the single most important connection I had to internalize to teach personal accountability to leaders so they can demonstrate it in their cultures. Key to it all…understanding that authority and empowerment are completely different and not mutually exclusive.

    “As leaders, we [can 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 [ ] accountable for outcomes.” YES!

    Thank you for your work.


    • Linda, Thank you for sharing these thoughts; very well said. I agree that you cannot simply empower other people like turning on a switch. Similar to ‘motivation,’ empowerment absolutely comes from within an individual. They need to find it within themselves, having been provided the necessary environment delivered and enabled by the leader, to determine that they are in greater control of their jobs and outcomes; that they have been given greater responsibility.

      I plan on visiting your blog, and will seek the post about your daughter, “‘Lea’s Leap’ in the 85% Solution.” Thank you for sharing these thoughts on my blog post. I hope I continue to provide you compelling reasons to come back, read, and share again.



  8. You need to be a part of a contest for one of the greatest blogs on the web.
    I am going to recommend this site!


  9. […] Hearing companies treat their employees as ‘capital’, just like they would buildings and money. WE -THE PEOPLE- ARE THE COMPANIES! If you want to innovate, start with us all, from us all, for us all! […]


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