What is empowerment? LO26170

From: Peggy Stuart (pstuart@c2t2.ca)
Date: 02/19/01

Replying to LO26160 --

Hi Bill et al:

Bill said in LO26160:

"How can one person empower another (unless empowerment is synonomous with
authorization)? If I empower you to do something and later take that away
from you, were you really empowered? Or were you simply authorized? Does
empowerment only come from within?"

(For the sake of this dialogue, I will use terms in reference to a
position rather than a task.)

Before I pass on my thoughts on Bill's question ... what is empowerment? I
think that a leader can empower or yes, authorize someone to make
decisions within the scope of their responsibilities. For example, if
empowered, an employee will not have to ask her or his supervisor if she
or he decides to make a change to a process, etc. that it part of his or
her work i.e. "You don't need to clear that through me. I know you know
what you are doing." That doesn't mean that she or he will then 'have' to
make those decisions e.g. "I am not quite comfortable with that." Not
unless this authorization is built into her or his job description and she
or he is then held accountable for those decisions. If so, than this event
is -- at least to me -- decentralization, not empowerment.

I know this seems like a lot of semantics. But I think it is important to
clarify that the event of empowerment is different than decentralization.
After empowerment, a person is trusted to make decisions. After
decentralization, a person has to make decisions.

I think that empowerment happens on the first or even second level of
analysis such as between supervisor and employee or team leader and team.
Decentralization happens on the systems-level or the third level of
analysis. An organization cannot empower all staff from the systems-level
without some sort of structure, which becomes the process of

So on to Bill's question, I think empowerment does come from within in
that I can choose not to take the initiative to do X, Y or Z. (Goodness!
This is could be QUITE a dialogue as I realize this also has to do with
compliance vs. commitment.) But a person's supervisor has a HUGE impact on
whether that person chooses to be, or the level of which she or he is,

For example, 10 years ago I was told I was empowered to write an article
for a national publication on my own initiative. (Wow! I worked so hard!)
When I very proudly passed it by my boss, his only criticism was my choice
of "...66 women and men...," a phrase I felt was needed in context of the
article's message of gender equality. He said that term 'women and men'
was grammatically incorrect. I was then ordered to reverse the genders
back to the 'correct' way. So I went back to my office and reworded the
entire sentence with no references to gender... OK ... maybe that was a
bit passive-aggressive. :-) So was I truly empowered? Regardless what
anyone thought or said ... I sure didn't feel like I was.

A good book to further underline my point here is 'Zapp! : The Lightning
of Empowerment: How to Improve Quality, Productivity, and Employee
Satisfaction.' (Cox. 1998) It is quite a nice and fast read.




Peggy Stuart <pstuart@c2t2.ca>

[Host's Note: in assoc w/Amazon.com...

Zapp! : The Lightning of Empowerment : How to Improve Quality, Productivity, and Employee Satisfaction by Jeff Cox (Contributor), William C. Byham (Preface) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0449002829/learningorg


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