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In Pursuit of Empowerment




We always hear about the importance of empowering our employees. In reality, it is not clear that this is even possible. Is empowerment something managers and supervisors can do for someone else? Or do employees have to decide to empower themselves? From my perspective, empowerment cannot be given to you. Circumstances for it to happen can be created and then you have to make a decision to accept the challenge and empower yourself.


Susan Heathfield elaborates on the topic of empowerment in this way, “Empowerment is the process of enabling or authorizing an individual to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision making in autonomous ways. It is the state of feeling self-empowered to take control of your own destiny.”


Employees either want to be empowered or they don’t. Managers either have the ability or will to create opportunities to empower employees or they don’t. The culture of your company has a direct impact on whether or not managers and supervisors can create opportunities to empower you as an employee. Here are a few examples of the components of culture that contribute to opportunities to empower others:


Decision Making Power: If your organization is highly structured with all the decision making power centralized to the top, it can be impossible to develop an empowered team. In this reality, the owners or executives make all the decisions and even if they allow employee input, there is a subtle or sometimes obvious way they stage-manage the message and communication process so the team always arrives at the original intent of the owners or executives.


Organizational Politics: If your organization is highly political with employees and managers jockeying for status, opportunities or power, this can undermine your ability as a manager or supervisor to create an environment that supports empowerment. For example, if a supervisor is given a project to complete and highly political team mates are appointed to the committee, the members of the committee can sabotage the project by incapacitating the platform for creativity.


Communication: It is impossible to empower employees if they don’t even know what they are supposed to be doing or if they have no voice. If your organization has impaired top-down and bottom-up communication flows, there are probably managers and employees who hoard information or discourage employee input. Some of these managers retain important or relevant information to control the team, keeping you in the dark so they can:


o Protect or build their status or brand

o Camouflage their incompetence

o Hinder your development as an employee.

o Avoid having you suggest ideas that are perceived to be better than theirs


If you see yourself in one of these manager types, you usually provide a minimal amount of data that slowly trickles down to employees and you consciously or unconsciously discourage the flow of information to the top. In cases where information does move up through the formal and informal channels, it may be through highly political employees who are intent on putting their spin on the facts.


Tips for Creating Space for Empowerment


  • Release control and decentralize decision making. If you do decide to grant employees additional responsibility or decision making power, you can release control in small quantities to build their, skills, confidence and trust.

  • Build trust by creating an environment or space that will support creativity and allow room for error. If employees are afraid to make mistakes they will not be open to taking the risks of being creative or responsible.

  • Reinforce behaviours with constructive feedback. If employees are reassured that they are on the right track and you provide coaching and mentoring instead constant criticism you can create opportunities for empowerment, growth and trust.

  • As an executive or owner, ask your support staff for input and be open to letting them generate and implement creative solutions that are different than yours.

  • Be sure employees are aware of your expectations for results.

  • Check in with employees periodically to support their progress. Not to micromanage them.


There are some organizational cultures that are low on standardization with limited polices and procedures that need to be standardized to create efficiencies of scale and quality products and services. Then there are other cultures that thrive on non-standardization because vision, imagination and originality are important constituents of their success.


There is another type of organizational culture that is very committed to policies and procedures and centralized decision making protocols. In highly scripted environments like these, when it makes sense, you can seek to balance your need to impose policies and procedures with deliberate attempts to develop and stretch your employees.


Based on my experience, empowered employees are critical thinkers, decisive, imaginative, results driven, accountable, self-motivated and sometimes better leaders because of constructive empowerment initiatives.


With knowledge gained from over 30 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.

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