In business circles and organizations, using the word ‘empowerment’ is in vogue. And, why wouldn’t it be? True empowerment is magical. It’s enchanting, captivating, and breathtaking and produces far more spectacular results than its run-of-the-mill cousin, ‘delegation’, ever will.
Think back to a time when you felt truly empowered. How about your first solo drive after getting your license? Backpacking in Europe for three months after college? Or, the day your boss let you manage a high-stakes deal without being at the negotiating table? Remember the energy it gave you and the results you achieved? Authentic empowerment fires up employees’ intrinsic motivation, makes them unstoppable and leaves them feeling fulfilled at work. So, why not use the ‘e’ word more often and create the buzz necessary to motivate people? Because, just saying it is so, doesn’t make it so. Simply saying people are empowered isn’t the same as actually empowering them. What does it take to truly empower someone?
According to the Oxford dictionary, the verb ‘empower’ means: ‘To give someone the authority or power to do something—as in ‘the board is empowered to act.’ Additionally, it can mean: ‘To make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights—as in ‘movements to empower the poor.’ Synonyms include: emancipate, unshackle, unchain, set free, or give freedom to.
Empowerment implies something special that you’re giving your employee—a privilege, an opportunity, more freedom to operate with, or something they’d want to have.
Leaders know that not every task or project given to an employee is a wonderful opportunity or privilege. Employees know that, too. Much of the time a leader is dealing with routine tasks that simply need to be delegated. They are ‘entrusting a task or responsibility to another person, typically one who is less senior than themselves—as in: ‘she must delegate duties so as to free herself for more important tasks.’ However, if organizations or leaders substitute the word ‘empower’ when they actually mean ‘delegate’, they are employing a euphemism—which often tears down trust. Instead, call each assignment what it is and focus on designing a few special opportunities for your employees that are truly empowering—opportunities that set them up for success and further their career development.
If you can answer ‘yes’ to most of the questions on this list, you’re probably well on your way to providing a truly empowering experience:
Strive for authentic empowerment—it’s an awesome concept and an effective motivational tool!