Caution: Empowerment

I’m a big fan of empowerment.  I don’t think we have enough leaders that really understand the dynamics of what it means.  Yet, at the same time, empowerment is a two-sided coin. 

On one side, empowerment enables work to be done in an equitable way.  You empower your executives and directors to manage and lead the people within their department.  They in turn are to empower the people within their department or arena to do their jobs with dignity, trust, enabling them to use their gifts and talents and experience to produce, develop, sell, create, etc.  Everyone is the happiest when facilitated correctly.

Yet I have also seen the “evil” side of empowerment.  

It is misguided empowerment when a person whom you are empowering is left alone to fend for themselves.  When a leader takes a hands-off approach, it can create dictators in the making.  When the leader allows their direct reports (VP’s, Directors, Managers, etc.) to be too independent they enable them to operate under dysfunctional leadership styles.

To further exacerbate the situation, when the only input on what’s going on in their department comes from the direct report they may get an altered view of reality.  In essence they “see no evil and hear no evil.” The voices from “below” don’t get through.  

A leader may think he or she is a great delegator, when in reality they may be the great neglector.  Yes, we need to be able to trust our managers, but at the same time not questioning direct reports decisions allow little kingdoms to appear and flourish within an organization. Not hearing or seeing what’s going on “below” is a recipe for disaster or at least dysfunction. 

There is a reason the TV series, “Undercover Boss” was so popular.  Boss’ eyes are opened to the realities of management “abuse.”  Abuse in the sense of yelling, ignoring, blocking, controlling, and micro-managing. Abuse in the sense of allowing position and authority to dominate and threaten employees of losing their jobs and promotions. 

Under the guise of empowerment, falsehoods can be perpetuated upwardly about team members.  Employees can be blocked from advancement and exposure to their talents and expertise.  Employees may be yelled at, demeaned, isolated, and gossiped about.  I’m talking about management gossip. Management gossip is called “uplining,” where managers tell other managers and superiors about employees’ issues without the employee being able to explain or defend themselves.  

Trust is needed in order to empower someone, yet, blind trust is the other side of the coin.  My caution is simply this: be aware and watch for signs of dysfunction that may be played out within the people you empower. 


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