Tag Archives: Empowering employees

Without the Power to Make a Difference, There is Little Incentive to Participate

The essence of power is not the power itself, but in the license it grants the holder of power to make a difference and influence the outcome of any situation.

Many in business seem to believe that the accumulation and retention of power is the objective of the game, but that misses the point. Power should not be seen as the goal, but as a tool that can be used to achieve goals. The most effective leaders do not seek to SharePoweraccumulate power so they can do great things; instead they share the power they have among their followers, so they can do great things. They know that when power is constricted or consolidated in the hands of the few, it excludes the many from feeling empowered to make a difference, destroying their incentive to participate and work toward the objective.

A good example of how people act when they feel empowered or conversely, powerless, can be gleaned from voter turnout in national and local elections. The New York Times reported that the national voter turnout of 36.3 percent for the 2014 federal election was the lowest in 72 years. In the three largest states – California, Texas and New York – less than a third of those eligible to vote did so.

Voter participation in state and local elections is even more abysmal; often less than 20 percent of those eligible exercise their franchise to vote. When slackers were asked why they didn’t vote, the vast majority reported they sat out the election because, “They didn’t believe their vote would make a difference.”

Compare that result with this one:  it has been estimated that 71.3 percent of active members of organized special interest groups turn out to vote in support of their cause. In the 2012 recall election of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (he won), 57.8 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. This was the highest participation rate for a gubernatorial election not on a presidential ballot in Wisconsin history.

The point here is that when people feel important and that they have the power to make a difference, they will become involved and make the effort to make a difference. But when people feel no sense of power to make a difference or influence the outcome of a decision, they lose interest. They lack incentive to contribute and basically sit on their hands. When this happens, the leader – no matter how much power he or she may have in theory – is, in reality, powerless to achieve the sought-after objective.

Many in the business world long for power—so they can keep it for themselves.


More often than not, the politics of the typical business organization is driven by an addiction to power and the personal success it is perceived to bestow. This is not bad in and of itself, but a problem emerges when those who do acquire power exhibit little understanding for the real power of power and fail to use it effectively. It is as if power for power’s sake is the only goal.

This tunnel vision thinking is clearly evident when looking at the traditional “organizational chart.” These charts are structured in the form of a pyramid, with the CEO and senior officers at the pinnacle, unmistakably sending the signal where the power resides. The message is that the lower one is on the pile, the less power they possess. The problem with most companies is not that power – or the lack of it – is expressed this way, but that the leaders of the organization believe that when it comes to power, this is the way it should be.

When the culture of the organization revolves around the concentric acquisition and accumulation of power, those down the line begin to feel powerless to make a difference or influence the success of the organization. As this happens they withdraw, lose interest and lack the incentive to make the extra effort for the benefit of the organization.

Power Hoarders Should Know Better

What makes this cycle of power so incongruous is that most of those who have power in the business world know that the constriction and husbanding of power among the few is counterproductive to the overall success of the organization. One of the most discussed and praised techniques of successful management is “employee empowerment.” While virtually everyone in a business leadership role professes to recognize the value of employee empowerment, it is almost always more talk than action.

In survey after survey a large majority of employees who express dissatisfaction with their job cite lack of respect for their effort and the absence of an opportunity to offer input that could make a difference. In short, they feel powerless and that’s a bad feeling to have in an organization that puts a premium on power.

Why Not Empower Others to Make a Difference?

If empowering employees is recognized as the right thing to do, why don’t more managers do it? The chief reason managers fail to empower others is the mistaken belief that giving up their hard-earned power to others will, in some way, make them less powerful. They don’t understand the difference between sharing power and relinquishing it. When employees are empowered by the leader, what is transferred is not the authority of the leader, but the real essence of the feeling of power: that magical recognition that one is respected for their talent and that they can make a difference.

The leader always retains the power of their position, but when the leader is willing to share the benefits of that power with their followers it creates a feeling of empowerment. It is the feeling of empowerment that builds loyalty to the leader, encourages participation and incents the follower to do the best they can—not only for themselves, but also for the leader and the company. It’s not that everyone wants the power and responsibility to make the decisions – most don’t – but what they do want is the feeling that they are important to the leader and the company. And they have that feeling when they feel empowered to make a difference.

It Costs Little and Gains so Much to Empower Others

All it takes is the right attitude and a few simple steps for a leader to empower their followers.

  • It starts with respect. When the manager exhibits the same level of respect for the powerless as they do for the powerful, the powerless become empowered. Respect is empowering and it comes down to simply acknowledging and recognizing the value and contribution of the employee. How hard is that?
  • Participation is a key element of empowerment. How can one feel empowered if they are excluded from the process? When a person’s opinion, thoughts and ideas are SharePower3sought out it signals they are valued and this is highly empowering. It does not mean the employee makes the decision, but when the leader shares power by including them in the process of making the decision, they are empowered.
  • The ultimate feeling of empowerment for an employee is when they are recognized for their contribution and allowed to share in the value they helped to create. Conversely, it is a sure sign of powerlessness when an individual works hard and contributes to the success of an organization, only to have others take the credit and accept the rewards. When a corporate culture is based on shared effort, recognition and rewards, the more those involved will feel empowered. And when empowered they will be incented to participate.

It all comes down to this simple maxim:  Power is a powerful tool when a leader uses it to empower others.

Is the Power in You to Empower Others?

The promise of most business leaders to empower employees has about as much credibility as a politician’s promise to bring about change

No management technique is more talked about, praised and promised than the concept of employee empowerment. The idea of empowering employees is held up by business gurus as some form of management nirvana. Rare is the business executive who does not avow devotion to empowering employees and the benefits derived from employing it. And yet, for something so universally touted as an invaluable management tool, it’s amazing how rarely it is taken out of the toolbox. The truth is, if there is a popular management concept more honeycombed with hypocrisy, myth and duplicity than the idea of “empowering employees,” one would be hard pressed to find it.


There is a simple reason for this disconnect between the lip-service praise for employee empowerment and the strong reluctance on the part of many managers to implement the concept. Most corporate managers simply do not understand what it means to empower employees. Too often, they mistakenly equate giving power to employees with a reduction in their own power. The reality is that empowering others actually enhances the power of the leader. But for those managers who have invested their whole career in an effort to achieve a position of power and are married to this misconception that empowering employees is losing power, it’s understandable why the idea of giving away any of their hard-earned power would be an anathema to them.

These leaders fail to understand the unique – seemingly conflicting – characteristics of corporate power and that is that power hoarded ultimately weakens and is lost, while power that is willingly apportioned will, in the long run, magnify the power of the one who shares power.

The real meaning of empowering employees – something rarely mentioned or understood – is not the actual transfer of power – with all its rights and responsibilities – from the manager to the employee; the manager retains all the functional power of their position. Rather, it is the sharing of the essence of power that empowers employees.

Ask yourself: What is the real value of power? Isn’t the essence of power having the ability to have some influence and control over events that will impact you and your future? Do you feel better about yourself and more involved when you believe that you have a say in what happens in your life? Do you feel a sense of appreciation and loyalty toward those who put you in a position of power?

How you answered these questions can help you understand the real reason why empowering employees is such a potentially powerful management tool. You see, the empowering of employees does not mean giving your power away; it means retaining your power, but sharing it. The manager retains all the functional power of their position, but they share the value of having power with employees, so that they can, in fact, influence the actions of the organization and feel they can make a difference. It does not mean the leader has abdicated the power to make the decision, but it does mean that others feel empowered in the process of making the decision.

Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labors

If you worked hard to attain your power and enjoy the feeling of having it, don’t you think those who work for you would enjoy the same feeling? If you are the one who makes others feel empowered, isn’t it natural for them to feel beholden to you for the power they are allowed to share?

The truth is that most employees really don’t want the risk and responsibility that comes with actual power, but they do want the feeling that they can make a difference in the organization and that their talents and experience are valued in a way that can influence decisions that are made by those in power. The power of the leaders who follow this philosophy is boosted because the employees so empowered – with the ability to influence and make a difference – have a strong incentive to follow and support the leader who is the source of their empowerment.

Using Your Power to Empower Others

Once you truly understand the concept of empowering employees, you can then take the steps to make it happen: building trust, showing respect and offering consistent, open communication.

A leader empowers others by trusting others. Trust is built when an employee is assigned a task and then given the support, tools and authority engaging-and-empowering-184x184to complete it. If a leader exhibits trust in the employees to do their job – by avoiding hovering over them and micromanaging – then the employee feels empowered to make a difference and has incentive to do the best job possible.

A leader empowers others by inviting input. When a leader discusses issues with employees, asks questions, seeks input and asks for recommended solutions, it is a clear sign that the leader respects the knowledge and experience of the employee. Such action empowers the employee to participate and be involved. This approach does not transfer the power to make the final decision to the employee, but it does empower them to influence the final decision.

A leader empowers others by sharing Information. Information is power, and being “in the know” is always equated with power. So much so that many leaders seek to hoard and hide information lest its dissemination dilutes their power. When information regarding vision, plans and results of an organization are consistently, openly and honestly shared with employees this “being in the know” gives them the feeling of importance and empowerment that encourages participation and ownership.

A leader empowers others by recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of employees, being accessible and building open relationships with employees, showing concern for the future of the employee by investing in the development of their knowledge and skills and by creating a transparent culture that liberates the potential of the employee in a way that allows them to feel that they do have the power to make a difference.

Any one of these actions regarding, trust, respect, communication and the other elements of empowering employees can be used by a leader without giving up one iota of real power; and yet by sharing the benefits of having power the leader empowers others.

And the Moral of the Story …

If a leader is going to seek to empower employees it is first important to understand exactly what that means. Many leaders are under the misconception that empowering others equates to a loss of their own power. Just the opposite is the reality. The more a leader empowers others, the more power they will acquire. The true essence of empowering employees is not abdicating power, but in sharing the benefits of power which boil down to having influence within the organization and being in a position to make a difference. And, that’s the difference between talking about empowering employees and actually benefiting from the effort to do so.

 

The Power of the Powerful is to Empower the Powerless

Power To The People? Don’t Hold Your Breath!

Much like the perennial machinations of politicians who promise to bring about “change” to make things better, business leaders and their sycophant HR people espouse the desire to “empower employees” to make the organization better. Unfortunately, the pledges of politicians and business leaders often far outstrip their performance. If there is a popular management concept more honeycombed with hypocrisy, myth and duplicity than the idea of “empowering employees,” one would be hard pressed to find it.

When it comes to business leaders, the reason for this disconnect is simple: Most top managers do not have a clear definition of the concept of “empowering employees.” Too often, leaders equate giving power to employees with a reduction in their own power. When shackled with this flawed concept of what employee empowerment, it is understandable why those who have invested their whole careers to achieve the pinnacle of power would view with anathema the idea of giving any of it away. That’s a huge mistake because sharing power will, in the long run, actually magnify their power.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

The real meaning of empowering employees – something rarely mentioned or understood – is to share power with employees so that they can, in fact, influence the actions of the organization and feel they make a difference in overall performance.

The truth is that most employees really don’t want the risk and responsibility that comes with actual power, but they do want the feeling that they can make a difference in the organization and that their talent and experience is valued in a way that can influence decisions that are made by those in power.

In a corporate culture based upon empowering employees, the leaders retain the power of their position, but freely share the benefits and rewards of influence and making a difference that comes with power. As a result, the power of the leaders who follow this philosophy is boosted because the employees so empowered – with the ability to influence and make a difference – have a strong incentive to follow and support the leader who is the source of their empowerment.

That means more than just talk. The leader must also recognize that talking about empowering employees, but acting in a way that makes those words as hollow as a politician’s promise and do more damage than good.

The Times they are A-Changin’

But there are even more practical reasons for empowering employees. Business in this country has shifted from the task and process environment of manufacturing into a more complex age of knowledge. No longer is it enough to have a strong, capable executive at the top, who is skilled at managing the tangible assets of a company. To be competitive in the multifaceted age of knowledge the leader must be able to identify, develop, motivate and marshal the knowledge, skills, experience and acumen of all members of the group. In today’s competitive world, knowledge has become the intellectual capital of a company. No one person can have all the knowledge; and for a company to be successful there must be an environment that consistently nurtures and harvests the intellectual capital possessed by the employees and invest it in the future of the company. The only way to accomplish this is to empower employees.

Tips for Empowering Your Employees

The key to adopting a leadership style that empowers the followers is first to understand the concept (and its misunderstandings) and then take actions that properly implement it. Doing so is not always easy, but it is simple and the rewards are well worth the effort. It will be easier for the typical, insecure business leader to take the first step toward empowering employees when they can understand that this concept involves the sharing of power, not the transfer of power.

Once you truly understand the concept of empowering employees, the leader can then take the steps to make it happen: building trust, showing respect and offering consistent, open communication.

A leader builds trust by trusting others. Trust is built when an employee is assigned a task and then given the support, tools and authority to complete it. If a leader does not exhibit such trust in the employees to do their job – by hovering over them and micromanaging – then the employees have no incentive to trust that the leader will empower them to make a difference.

Invite input. When a leader discusses issues with employees, asks questions, seeks input and asks for recommended solutions, it is a clear sign that the leader respects the knowledge and experience of the employee. Such action empowers the employee to participate and be involved. This approach does not transfer the power to make the final decision to the employee, but it does empower them to influence the final decision.

Share Information. Information is power, and being “in the know” is always equated with power. So much so that many leaders seek to hoard and hide information lest its dissemination will dilute their power. When information regarding vision, plans and results of an organization are consistently, openly and honestly shared with employees then “being in the know” gives them the feeling of empowerment that encourages participation and ownership.

Other steps to empower employees include enabling the knowledge of employees to be accessed and used, recognizing and rewarding the accomplishments of employees, being accessible and building open relationships with employees, showing concern for the future of the employee by investing in the development of their knowledge and skills and by creating a transparent culture that liberates the potential of the knowledge possessed by the employee in a way that allows them to feel that they do have the power to make a difference.

Any one of these actions regarding, trust, respect, communication and the other elements of empowering employees can be used by a leader without giving up one iota of real power; and yet by sharing the benefits of having power the leader empowers others.

And the Moral of the Story …

If a leader is going to seek to empower employees it is first important to understand exactly what that means. Many leaders are under the misconception that empowering others equates to a loss of their own power. Just the opposite is the reality. The more a leader empowers others, the more power they will acquire. The true essence of empowering employees is not abdicating power, but in sharing the benefits of power which boil down to having influence within the organization and being in a position to make a difference. And, that’s the difference between talking about empowering employees and actually benefiting from the effort to do so.