Taking Steps toward Leadership–Empowerment

Empowerment, buzz word, meaningless drivel.  It is the basis for mission statements by voluntary organizations and corporations and non profits.  What is it actually for?    To those who write these mission statements, it is so that the members of the organization feel like they are providing a service.  They grant this boon to allow clients to manage their own money, to determine their investment strategies, to find their own paths through the labyrinth of bureaucracy to reach new heights of management.  Schools empower students.  PTA’s empower teachers and parents.  The government empowers the people.  Don’t those sound like lofty missions?

What happens when you empower a group of people?  You give them authority to act; you give them discretion to make decisions, not only for themselves but for the people they influence; you allow them to be responsible for the outcomes of these decisions; and finally, you allow them to succeed or fail.  This brings up the question:  Aren’t we the people, the members, the parents and teachers and students, and the clients the ones that empower the companies, the schools, and the government to act in our behalf?  The government cannot levy taxes, make war, or build roads if we don’t grant them the power and authority to do so.  The schools cannot enlighten our children if we do not allow them the power and authority to use their discretion in how this can most efficiently happen.  (Although, to be quite honest, this empowerment is implied when parents send their children to school.  It seems silly when they want to deny that empowerment and run the school and teach their children in a manner that conforms to their Utopian ideals, by demanding no homework, no consequences for their children’s misbehavior, and fair and impartial grading system as long as their child gets an A.)  The corporation cannot employ and decide benefits and salaries and performance reviews if the employees do not consent to the policies.  That’s why there are employment contracts.  The investment company can not do anything it wants with your money if you don’t empower them to work on your behalf.  What I’m getting at is that when an entity grants empowerment to the people they serve, they deny that the entities are empowered by the people they serve.

“…that this government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  That sounds like the government was empowered by the people it served.  If we turn that around and have the government grant empowerment to the people, it infers that it is no longer under the power of the people that put it in place.  In other words, empowerment implies and unequal status.  Only the entity with the most power can grant power.

This realization is essential for our way of life.  Corporations cannot manufacture products without the people on the factory floor.  Companies cannot make a profit if their sales force is unequal to the task.  Churches cannot grow if the most important people aren’t the newest members.  The government does not run without the consent of the people it governs.  Whether we acknowledge this or not, the most important people in any entity are the people at the bottom of the ladder.  Not the people with the golden parachutes, not the ones with the most titles, not the people who win the elections–the factory floor people, the parents, and the voters empower people.

How does this effect leadership?  Have you been granted more power?  Granted by whom?  If you’ve been promoted and have a shiny new title, does that mean people will follow you?  If you got a nice piece of paper that says you are now more educated than most, does that mean people will follow you?  Empowerment comes from the people you lead.  And leadership is influence.  You influence the people that will follow you by showing them you are credible, that you have good character and integrity, that you have a vision they can support, and that you really care for the people you lead.  In that way, you get their consent to lead them–you are empowered by them.  You, in turn, grow people by teaching them to be better leaders so that people will endow them with their trust and empower them to lead.

When you recognize where your power comes from, you don’t throw words like “empowerment” around lightly.  Remember you don’t work for you, you don’t lead for you;  you work for your team, you lead by the consent of your followers.

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