How do you empower? LO26216

From: Bill Harris (
Date: 02/25/01

Replying to LO26200 --

Peggy Stuart <> wrote:

> and (2) be prepared in case I reverse my position. :-)

That sounds like a rather empowered position. :-)
> So how would leaders best accomplish this? This then becomes a part of a
> bigger picture regarding leadership. Communicate what is needed (not
> wanted) using the appropriate language. Does that then mean leaders get
> what they want? No. This is only part of the equation leading to "true
> empowerment".

That's a good but tough point. In an "empowered" organization, leaders
may negotiate more that command.
> Leader's can make their employees formally accountable to make those
> changes when and if needed. However, the actions of defining what is
> needed and when and subsequently making a person accountable becomes an
> action of decentralization. I say that because that action is focussing on
> the desired requirements of that position rather than the person,
> therefore this action is happening on the systems-level. The only person
> (people) that can evaluate the desired requirements of a person is that
> person's supervisor (or co-worker, etc. Whoever works closest with the
> person in question, which means empowerment can be lateral and well as
> vertical!)

Until you started this thread, I'm not sure I had really thought about
empowerment and decentralization as two related but distinct concepts. I
see the point readily when I think of empowerment in what I was claiming
was current (non-dictionary) usage: personal initiative. I'm still
thinking about empowerment/authorization vs. decentralization.
Authorization seems more one to one, while decentralization seems like
it's more about organizational structure.
> "I do believe managers bear some responsibility for this by their actions,
> and I think that sort of thing has been covered well elsewhere."
> Where? I tried to find 'coempowerment' on this listserv, but couldn't dig
> it up. :-( I think coempowerment would speak of where I am going ...

Is that the positive form of codependency? :-)

I meant that I thougth I had seen books and seminars talking about how
managers could get things done without being in a command and control
mode. I wasn't referring to any specific thread here.
> If that situation would have happened to me now, I can only say I would
> not allowed myself to be a victim. I would have sat my supervisor down,
> discussed the issue of trust, and mediated my way out of a situation that
> was negatively impacting me, the work I was doing, and the learning
> opportunities I could have availed myself of to do even "better" work, be
> a "better" person, etc. However, I was not "empowered" to do this at that
> point in time. Another piece to the equation leading to "true empowerment"
> Self-confidence, or a sense of personal power.

When I began my career, I think I was pretty courteous towards my
managers. By courteous, I really mean somewhat deferential. I'd not
cross them unless I really felt strongly about something (and perhaps not
even then).

As I've grown, I've discovered I speak with those in higher managerial
positions as equals who may just have a different role to play in the
organization than I do, as someone with whom I can have a dialog on ideas.
I guess I'm still courteous, but I interpret courtesy differently. I
think it's the same thing you call self-confidence. Getting that
self-confidence at an early age without being brash--that'd be a great
> "A manager who complains about an unempowered workforce should realize
> it's all under their control to fix."
> I hesitate on agreeing with that one ... Empowerment is not something you
> can "fix". It, to me, is an intimate and equal relationship between
> supervisor and employee. However, perhaps you are using the term 'manager'
> as I am using 'supervisor'. In that case, yes, I would agree, there are
> plans of actions that could lead to empowerment. A manager/supervisor may
> be able to empower her or his employees by concentrating on the
> relationships she or he has with them. If trust or initiative is found to
> be lacking, then she or he does have a certain avenues of action.

I agree with you (I changed my mind, or at least I woke up and rethought
it). If empowerment is a shared responsibility, then one of the parties
can only do part of the work.
> I don't know ... I think that we are collectively getting to point where
> we can understand clearly what empowerment is, at least on this listserv
> we are. :-)

Aw, give us a few weeks--we'll all diverge again. That's what keeps us
all interesting.
> However, maybe the term "empowerment" is like the term "learning
> organization" It is best defined in context to the organization, its
> culture, and its needs.

That I'll go for. I'm finding I'm less and less interested in grand
pronouncements of what will work anywhere and more interested in finding
out what works for a particular set of people at a particular time.
> Maybe the recommendation ensuing from these e-mails would be to open a
> dialogue with all employees about what empowerment is, and what ensuing
> benefits are best in regards to the needs of the organization, (personal
> initiative, trust, flexibility, capacity for change, etc.). This dialogue
> process could come up with the collective frame of reference needed,
> regardless of what word was eventually agreed upon as a descriptor.

Good idea, Peggy.

Thanks for engaging in this dialog. I've learned a few things.


Bill Harris                                  3217 102nd Place SE
Facilitated Systems                          Everett, WA 98208 USA               phone: +1 425 337-5541

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