alpine leadership

Empowerment is to grant authority, control, or command.


Originally, to empower was to authorize by commission the control of a ship and the people aboard it.  Outside of navies, empowerment has worked its way into business and other enterprises seeking to grant authority of a subset of the enterprise.
What is curious about how most businesses start or evolve is that the default is that people are not empowered.  People join an organization, and immediately are told what authority they possess, and do not have (or are expected to ask for authority).  Certainly, some roles need some delineation and boundaries of power and authority: who should captain an aircraft, operate an MRI machine, make decisions on a multi-million-dollar purchase.  Yet, by delineating authorities, organizations also delineate subservience.
In an unseen schizophrenia, leaders lament how difficult it is to empower people once they are in roles or promoted to new levels of authority, even as they (perhaps, unwittingly) have been an accomplice in the restraint and control of power.  This cuts off the flow of good information and ideas coming from those closest to an opportunity or challenge, creates a risk-averse culture, and turnover of bright people seeking increased authority elsewhere.
Robert Heller said, “The first myth of management is that it exists. The second myth of management is that success equals skill.”  He may be a tad too cynical, yet his comments ring true in the sense of managing people can lead to control rather than increasing and broadening competence.   The word “manage” originally meant to handle or direct a horse (think horse’s “mane” as the reference to the words manage or manipulate).  Are you “directing a horse” or teaching and empowering your human assets?
Power also is a key component to leveraging talent.  If you believe that your recruitment and hiring practices are landing great talent into your organization, how do you disempower those very people over time?  What structures are designed to control power, rather than distribute it as far as possible?  How are titles and role descriptions used to restrict versus grant authority?  What physical spaces and traditional accruements of power disempower others?  What language is used, likely unconscious, in granting or limiting power?
And, the most difficult question:  What is your own need or want for power that takes power from others?

Post courtesy of Alpine Leadership

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