Empowerment – the Fear Factor

CEO’s/MD’s often talk about empowerment and how they encourage and facilitate their employees to be empowered. What they are most uncertain about and fear most is the unknown cost of empowerment.

Most people would describe empowerment as its enabling and encouraging those around them to make decisions and act on them and learn from the experience and mistakes they made. Empowerment effectively means that employees are allowed to make mistakes and so learn how not to repeat them again in the future.

I propose this is a somewhat misguided perspective and offer you an opportunity to rethink what empowerment means.

By implication, the CEO/MD is effectively saying that an employee who makes a decision different to that they would make is in some way following the wrong path, but that they are allowing them to fail and learn the error of their ways. This has a ring of arrogance I think. That the CEO/MD believes they know the right way of doing something and that the employee if they choose an alternative is following the wrong path is an assumption without foundation. It takes no account that the employee may in-fact be right or at least have found an alternative way of doing things right. Neither does it take account of the CEO/MD not actually being right, that the CEO/MD could be in fact wrong or at least the path to the solution isn’t the most effective.

The Nature of True Empowerment

For true empowerment to happen all must fully accept that difficult decisions will have multiple options for finding the solution and that the validity of the decisions taken wont be known until the future unfolds.

All must adopt the approach that neither the CEO/MD or the employee has the best approach. Therefore the CEO/MD must accept from the outset that the employee’s approach may have a greater degree of validity in the fullness of time. Anything less and the employee will soon see through the desire of the CEO/MD to want everything done their way and will not of course feel anything like empowered.

So why do CEO’s/MD’s fear empowerment (whilst claiming to desire it)?

The answer is really quite straightforward, its because they fear what empowerment might do! The employee may make a disastrous mistake or they may outshine them or they’re just not convinced of the path they suggest. In any of these cases the CEO/MD will encourage the employee to follow the path of the CEO/MD so destroying the intent to empower. To truly empower you as the CEO/MD must stand by, offer encouragement and support with the express aim of enabling success of the employee. Not because you want them to learn from their failure but because you want them to succeed and the organisational benefit from finding the best way of doing something or solving a problem.

The fear of empowerment therefore is fear of the empowered!

A truly empowering CEO/MD will allow their employees to make decisions and take actions. Then help employees to understand the responsibility placed on them. The empowered employee then is executing decisions they have made, not those of their CEO/MD and based on agreed analysis and opinions. Success or failure therefore is the responsibility of those empowered.

Empowerment and Responsibility

So empowerment means the CEO/MD must relinquish the power to make decisions. The CEO/MD must encourage decision making that reflects the gravity of the situation giving responsibility to those empowered. The employee must be in a position to take decisions in the full knowledge of the consequences of their actions. The spotlight therefore is on the empowered employee.

All of this said organisations that fully pursue empowerment can do things that no CEO/MD can do on their own. The playbook of the CEO/MD who empowers employees is one of making the most of the many talents rather than concentration of decisions in the hands of just a few or even just one person.

What Usually HappensDo you Dare to do?
ResponsibilityManagers assign to employeesEmployees inform managers
AuthorityManagers ‘delegate’ requiring employees to seek permissionNo permission needed, authorisation not required
AccountabilityLack of diligence and courageFocus on results over popularity
TransparencySecretive and privateEverything is public
Cutesy of ThinkShift

Philip Dawson MBA | Strategy Consultant | Trainer | Systems Thinker | Growth & Innovation Enthusiast

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