When Empowerment is a Four Letter Word

Posted: February 27, 2014 in Change, Relationship Building
Tags: , , , , ,

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I used to tell my last boss I was an abstract kind of person. He would laugh and say don’t you mean obtuse. He was joking of course. Though there are times when I think it is true.

Like with the idea of Empowerment. I capitalize it because that’s how I see it when I hear management say it.

Because when I hear them say it I think, I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I know what empowerment means. But I don’t know what Empowerment means.

This is where the obtuse part comes in. I’m like I don’t think I know what Empowerment looks like yet alone how to implement it. And then I get snarky because I don’t like feeling obtuse and I say, I don’t think you know what it looks like either.

Now, to be fair to myself I think perhaps it is less obtuseness and more extreme dislike for management buzz words that sets me off.  And Empowerment is one of them.

So obviously empower means to give power. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some good, some bad. Power has way too many connotations and implications and insinuations to be a healthy conversation piece.

I prefer to think of it as giving people influence. Because is influence is really what you want them to have.  And as we all know, influence is power.

Give people the tools and skills to influence behavior and processes, which vary of course depending on the goals and environment. Give them some self-determination. Because having self-determination makes us feel better about our situation.

This is great. But there’s one thing that’s usually missing. It’s not the commitment. It’s not the resources. It’s the trust.

(I think I’m going to give myself a bonus every time I use the word trust. Because it always boils down to that.)

But this time the trust is not between the change agent and the team. This trust is between management and the team. Management has to show that they trust the process.

Management often states in good faith that they trust the team and the process. Then they undermine it in word or in action, often in the form of control. The unwillingness to give up control. I don’t really trust you if I second guess everything, if I micromanage the process steps, if I have to run everything up the ladder, if I throw barriers in the way. That’s not trust.

What do we want management? We want trust. Without trust Empowerment is just another four letter word.

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