The Power of Empowerment
Today, it will get a little bit personal. My daughter Viki is now at the age when I hear her say “on my own” ten times a day. She is two years old, and I watch her skills developing constantly. No wonder she wants to try out all that is new. She wants to explore her power and limits, and she basically wants to feel that magical effect of empowerment. “Wow, I can walk down the steep stairs on my own, and my mom lets me do it!” She learned how to climb up the stairs only a few months ago. With every single success of doing something without help, she is driven to do more and more things on her own and without assistance. This is a situation all parents know and understand.
But do we realize that we experience similar situations at work as leaders? My friend Jane once came to me complaining about her boss Eric and said she was thinking about leaving the company. Since I knew her boss quite well, I understood there was little chance for Jane to stay working under him and be happy.
Eric had a position in top management he was very proud of, and everybody in the organization knew that he loved the feeling connected to “having the power.” Eric’s self-evaluation was directly connected to his social status. Poor Jane! How hard it was on her. She was a very active junior manager hired from the outside, and her first management experience was getting a boss like Eric. She felt Eric was only interested in how she executed his “orders,“ and had not been interested at all in her as a person, nor her extra “few cents“ of contribution.
All the information that was flowing to Eric from the top or sideways was guarded by Eric. He did not dare to inform his direct reports at all about what was going on in the organization. Eric was the type of person who liked the feeling that he had exclusive data or information not many people knew about, and thus, he did not dare to share knowledge, even if it was important for the decision making of others. At the same time, he wanted his direct reports, including Jane, to inform him about any single decision they made prior its execution. Jane told me: “Ida, I feel so useless there as I have never felt in any previous role. I feel Eric has no trust in my skills and after a year I spent in the role, I feel as powerless as at the beginning. I just want out!”
What do Jane and my daughter Viki have in common? As most human beings, they both like the feeling connected to achievement and success. But what might happen if, instead of supporting my daughter in her development, I would start explaining to her that she cannot walk the stairs on her own or asked her to describe to me her every single move before even making it? Not only might she feel discouraged, but our relationship would definitely be hurt by the lack of trust.
Empowering others and sharing information openly are behaviors of “powerful” leaders, not the other way around. Great leaders provide others not only with enough information, but also with freedom to find their own solutions, make decisions, and act as independently as possible. Thus, they increase their sense of ownership and their engagement.
Empowering leadership saves a lot of time for the leader
and actually contributes to better productivity overall.
In this context, it would be inefficient for me to continue with tips on how to empower others and share information with them, and why this is important. Why? Because this job has already been done by my friend and blogger Tomas Kucera in his articles “The ugly truth behind having secrets" and “Don’t manage. Empower!” Long, but worth reading!
And as this article is about empowering others, I decided to help out our community interested in leadership development by starting Managers' First Aid Forum. Please do not leave me alone there, join, submit questions, comments and create a momentum empowering others and yourself as well!