Empowerment LO26288

From: Bill Harris (bill_harris@facilitatedsystems.com)
Date: 03/06/01

Replying to LO26273 --

Richard Karash <Richard@Karash.com> wrote:

> So, the crux of our question is not what the word means, it is whether the
> proposed action is achievable.

Good point.
> I apologize for taking us down the track about definitions.

Since definitions are key to successful communications (and since I'm also
a writer :-), I don't see a need for a brief detour in that direction.

> Another thought: My earlier comment was pretty black/white. Thinking about
> it a little more, my point is not that it's impossible... But that the
> question "How to empower?" takes us down an ineffective path.

I like that question.

> We have influence over others, but not control. I think the errant meaning
> comes from a mindset in which control over others is seen as a practical,
> everyday tool. To me, that's a fundamental error.
> In starting down the path towards a learning organization, an early step
> is dropping the notion of control.

I think we agree here.

"Winfried Dressler" <winfried.dressler@voith.de> wrote:

> I think there is also an aspect to empowerment, which has to do with human
> maturity. You write: "The President (or Prime Minister or ...) can empower
> his Secretary of State to go to Europe or Asia or ... " Of course the
> Secratary of State cannot just be anybody. One may also say that the
> President trusts in the degree of empowerment which the Secretary has
> reached.

Good example, Winfried. So, even when the word is used ostensibly with
its classic meaning, it really is the newer (?) meaning which is active.
> At wrote in LO26219: "I think I have mentioned during that dialogue that
> in my own mother tongue we distinguish between "gemagtig"=authorised and
> "bemagtig"=self-authorised. The stem word "mag"=power. The two prefixes
> "ge-" and "be-" makes the noun a verb while the suffix "-(t)ig" makes it a
> past participle."
> German has a similar distinction: bemächtigt (=self authorised) and
> ermächtigt (=authorised). Bemächtigung (noun) or bemächtigen (verb) has
> two applications: the deep learning of a subject or to seize power (would
> you also say "to seize a subject"?).

Good examples. Thanks.

ACampnona@aol.com writes:

> Claude Steele at Stanford University has done a lot of research into the
> downside of empowerment. It goes under the headings associated with
> 'judgement' and 'stereotyping'. Pleasure in personal performance
> undermined by unskilled incompetent or plain malicious mentors, managers
> and supervisors issuing from albeit and perhaps unwittingly both conscious
> and unconscious streams are the cause of doubt inducing stickiness among
> otherwise competent and confident young people.
> Jeffrey Hausdorff of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre Boston and Becca
> Levy at Yale have done extensive studies of the effect of such repeated
> bathing in negative stereotyping. To cut to the quick, " negative words
> can make older people walk more slowly, perform poorly in subsequent
> tests, underrate abilities they have and even sap their will to live."
> - - She remarks, " You wouldn't think a few words could invoke despair, but
> that is what they found. [Robert Adler]
> New Scientist, Sept 2000

Maybe what we're left with is what some managers have said for a long
time, except that I've heard it under motivation, not empowerment: you
can't motivate people, you can only demotivate. The action a manager can
take to motivate is largely just getting out of the way. (Reinhold
Sprenger has written on this subject, among others, but I'm paraphrasing
from other, earlier writers whose words I remember better than their


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

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