Empowerment LO18528 -Summary

Frank Billot (fbillot@pacwan.net)
Sat, 27 Jun 1998 18:59:00 +0100

Replying to LO18292 --

Bonjour ` tous,

first of all thank-you to everyone, to date more than 150 messages have
been exchanged on that thread and your collective wisdom helped me reach
deep insights. This electronic network of machines once again proved to be
an unmatched support to the most valuable of networks in my eyes, the
network of human collaboration and good-will. Where my initial question
was a rather 'technical' one, many of your answers have shown that
empowerment can bring deep concern. Again, thanks for having shared your
experience and wisdom.

Here is my proposal of synthesis on empowerment, which I knew nearly
nothing about last week : it does not pretend to be the ultimate
explanation, just my own interpretation based on your generous outputs.

There are 'two different types of empowerment --structural empowerment and
personal empowerment'.

Structural Empowerment

It deals with authority and is well expressed as 'pushing the decision
making down to the lowest level'. Thus, it is the authorization granted to
lower levels by higher levels of management to take decisions in an
independent fashion. In this regard, it is no more than the older concept
of 'increased delegation of authority', and 'derives from the notion that
power resides only in the top of a hierarchical structure and that it can
be loaned down through the organization to lower and lower levels'.
Thus empowerment is about 'how to distribute authority within an
organization. Who is authorized to do what? Authority usually follows

Here we have different views on the bestowing of power. According to the
view that 'power resides in the corporate office and can therefore be
bestowed upon organizational members', the delegation of authority is seen
as a contract : 'true empowerment offers a contract that is understood by
both parties in such a way that explains the responsibility and authority
each are willing to take', In this framework, all is fine when 'Authority
and responsibility are becoming aligned'.

Another view seems to be related to a paternalistic meaning of power
delegation : 'Everyone has their own comfort level with what, and to whom
they delegate authority. Trust, competence, reward and punishment are but a
few of the factors in the equation.' Here, authorization can be granted and
taken back if the 'empoweree' has not been compliant. In this regard, some
see empowerment as 'inherently contradictory', because 'If Power is
bestowed, it can also be withdrawn and is therefore no power at all'.
Yet another view holds that 'power is zero-sum. Power that management
controls is not available to workers (and other stakeholders) and power
available to workers, consumers, suppliers, legislators, etc. is not
available to management.' Empowerment is then more than a mere delegation
of authority, once power has been granted, it cannot be taken back.
It 'relies on a transactional model that implies that power is a limited
quantity to be shared out at the whim of the powerful.', and works like an
exchange where the empoweree gets more power, while the empowerer
diminishes his.

Most want to see empowerment as a win-win exchange : 'If I empower someone
else by diminishing my own power, then that is a false empowerment. If
empowerment occurs through both growing together, I believe we have true

Personal Empowerment

The corollary of this is that power cannot be considered as a finite
resource, rather as the ability to make decisions in an autonomous way.
(differences between autonomy, independence and interdependence ought to be
specified later) ''It is clear that authority must be distributed to make
things work correctly. But what empowerment facilitates, as I understand
it, is to have a more autonomous people in your organization'
'Peter Block, in his book The Empowered Manager, puts it in an
organizational context by saying "...empowerment ... is people taking
responsibility for themselves and the organization. This is a move away
from a system in which individuals wait for all decisions from the top,
take the safe path, and blame others when things go wrong." ''
In the notion of personal empowerment, the ability for the individual to
develop autonomous decisions and behaviors is principal, whereas the space
of autonomy granted by hierarchy is secondary.

Many asserted the idea that power to do and think autonomously is inherent
to individuals and that the only power of hierarchy is to limit it, not to
give it : 'Management can prevent but cannot grant power', 'organizations
and societies often create environments which takes away the potential
choices an individual can have.' 'You can have a great deal of personal
empowerment and still get blocked by the lack of structural empowerment in
the system'.

It leads to revert the concept of empowerment : 'We take away the power of
others, and empower ourselves over them. Where depowerment does not exist,
empowerment has no meaning.'

And because 'People have power over themselves, but not over others.', it
is mainly seen as a individual journey toward personal evolution, that
consists either in a fight against external obstacles to individual's power
or to the development of our inherent capabilities.

Many quotes highlight the inward dimension of empowerment :
"the power within which gives us confidence, sustains our life, and
enhances our experiences." ,
'I think of being empowered as finding one's own power and voice,
clarifying one's convictions and then acting on them.',
'To stay/feel empowered, is to know that I always have a choice and that I
choose to be somewhere or do something.' ,
'empowerment is staying centered. Whenever, i allow someone else to make me
feel negative, I am dis-empowering.'
'inside the persons who become (feel) "empowered" (the "empoweree"?)- they
simply feel able, know how and are motivated to take action to achieve a
"Empowerment is something people can ONLY do for THEMSELVES. The most that
one person can do for another's empowerment is to contribute to creating
the conditions under which people will empower themselves."

Empowerment is related to the ability of the individuals to connect
themselves to the power inside, so as to be able to set autonomous goals
and gather the resources in order to achieve them : 'power as "energy
directed toward a purpose." Someone who is acting in an empowered fashion,
therefore, is bringing all of their intellectual, physical, and emotional
power to bear to get the results they are after.'

This connection sometimes sounds like assertiveness , 'Empowerment is after
all about speaking up.'. Sometimes, the emphasis is on transcending the
boudaries inside 'The territory of empowerment is limited by their mental
models.'. In any case, personal empowerment seems to be always
identity-related : 'empowerment is not just more autonomy, but also more
responsibility and greater opportunity to expand a person's rtle'.

Managing Empowerment

If again 'Management can prevent but cannot grant power', can empowerment
be facilitated from outside ?

The basic answer given is to 'create an environment in which you are able
to exercise your wonderful, inherent power more effectively',
- 'creating a context where people are encouraged to take responsibility
for their work lives, to be proactive, to take risks and to be fully
themselves at work.' ,
- ' management's task is to use _its_ power/authority to create the system
conditions which will allow others to claim their own empowerment.',
- 'You can only create the conditions in which individuals are able to take
power, or motivate themselves.',
- ' one creates an environment which facilitates a persons ability to take
initiative to problem solve, be creative, feel ownership of the work and
functions of the business etc.',
- 'The challenge for organizations is  to remove the restraints from the
people to use the power--wisely and in accord with the whole--that they
already have.'
- 'Creating an atmosphere of trust so that communication and relationships
can be open and honest.
* Providing jobs and a workplace where each employee is challenged to grow.'
While most agree that 'If the change does not happen from the inside out,
it is something other than empowerment.', some adopt a more active approach
through coaching or facilitating
- "I help people to find the power within themselves." ,
- 'It isn't so much about handing over positional power, but about
influencing others to hold more personal power over their own lives.',
- 'Empowering others is done by inspiration. You give them respect. You
honor their accomplishments, you engage them in imagining what they could
- ' Mary Parker Follett suggests that what we need to do is to help people
develop their capacity for power (their own power).'
- '"empowerment" means helping others to see themselves as capable and
worthy of claiming their own power.'

This relation of help is sometimes defined in a straightforward way
'empowerment is giving power to the other person. It is similar to teaching
a man to fish so he can feed himself.'. More often, it is considered
cautiously 'Where capacity development is granted by virtue of another's
position, the process is seen to be reinforcing dependency and is not
considered empowerment, which (in that context) an individual can only
develop for themselves.'.

This relation entails 'A true respect for each individual and the ability
to accept and work with their differences' and while empowering is about
'- to develop "empoweree's" ability to see and modify their own mental
models and
- to develop the "empowerer's" skill in defining and encouraging the
empoweree to take more control of their mental models in achieving a goal
The interesting dynamic that may then occur is for the "empoweree" to
challenge, or at least question the empowerers right to empower!'
So that the motivation and abilities of the individuals should be
considered before engaging in such a relationship :
'Those with less education and business sophistication are sometimes very
impractical when given too much authority to act without management review.',
'to choose employees who want to be empowered'
'A leader can only set the stage of possibility and enhance the
probabilities for individuals in the group. Depending only upon the
individual's imagination and willingness to be courageous, will he or she
move forward with the self-created vision and take responsibility for
outcomes. Leaders can encourage or discourage this movement but cannot
make it happen for anyone, other than themselves. '
'The realization that not all people want to be empowered. Some workers
truly prefer to follow directions and this is OK too. '

Evolution and Empowerment

Empowering oneself is not always considered in the light of asserting one's
power in the face of others. It often is referred to spiritual values of
connectedness. Paradoxically, self-empowerment is then related to the
letting-go of the more individualistic tendencies.
'If I think of the times I am strong -- it comes from self-love and
acceptance which leads to love and acceptance of others.'
'I feel most empowered when I am experiencing deep, personal, spiritual,
energetic connection with another/other human beings.'
'With love, I feel empowered. Without it, I am not. My love (and truth)
contributes to others feeling/being empowered; The absence of my love (and
truth) takes away from others feeling/being empowered.'
'The truth is, we can empower ourselves and those around us each day - and
this is regardless of what position is held. We can do this by training
ourselves to be great listeners. We can authentically share ourselves with
those around us. We can actively practice understanding, compassion, and
forgiveness (including with ourselves). We can actively seek to bring out
the best in ourselves and others, and not let our pettiness get in the way.'
'I think my environment, my will and desire, my courage, my competence, my
self-esteem, my companions, etc. etc. etc. all systemically contribute to
my sense of empowerment.'


Argyris Chris, "Control in an Age of Empowerment", Harvard Business Review,
March-April 1995

Bennis, W. G., & Nanus, B. (1985). "Leaders: Strategies for Taking
Charge", New York: Harper & Row.

Blanchard K., "The empowered manager"

Blanchard, "Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute"

Block, P. (1987). The empowered manager: Positive political skills at
work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Broom Michael, "the power game"

Burke, W. W. (1986). "Leadership as empowering others". In S. Srivastva
(Ed.), "Executive power", (pp. 51-77). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Church, A. H., & Waclawski, J. (1996). "The effects of personality
orientation and executive behavior on subordinate perceptions of workgroup
enablement". International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 4, 20-51.

Dixon Nancy, (1994),"The Organizational Learning Cycle" McGraw-Hill
But... Publisher is out of stock

Frankl Victor, "Man's Search for Freedom".
[Host's Note: Probably Victor Frankl, "Man's Search for Untimate Meaning"

Handy Charles, "Balancing Corporate Power: A New Federalist Paper", Harvard
Business Review November-December 1992.

Hilly James, "kinds of power".

Karp P., "Power"

Kouzes J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1987). "The leadership challenge: How to
get extraordinary things done in organizations". San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Revised edition 1996.

Parker, L. E., & Price, R. H. (1994). "Empowered managers and empowered
workers: The effects of managerial support and managerial perceived control
on workers' sense of control over decision making", Human Relations, 47
(8), 911-928.

Reinelt, C. (1994), "Fostering empowerment, building community: The
challenge for state-funded feminist organizations", Human Relations, 47
(6), 685-705.

Sennet Richard, "The corrosion of character"

Shaw, R. B. (1992), "The capacity to act: Creating a context for
empowerment", In D. A. Nadler, M. S. Gerstein, R. B. Shaw, & Associates,
(Eds.), "Organizational architecture: Designs for changing organizations",
(pp. 155-174). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Strawn, C. (1994), "Beyond the buzz word: Empowerment in community outreach
and education", Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 30 (2), 159-174.

Vogt, J. F., & Murrell, K. L. (1990), "Empowerment in organizations: How
to spark exceptional performance", San Diego, CA: University Associates.
Or Pfeiffer and Co

Wellins, R. S., Byham, W. C., & Wilson, J. M. (1991), "Empowered teams:
Creating self-directed work groups that improve quality, productivity, and
participation", San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1555423531/learningorg (Hard)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1555425542/learningorg (Paper)


[Host's Note: Thank you Frank for the summary! I have taken the liberty of
making a couple of small corrections and inserting book links in Frank's
Bibliography where I could identify the titles. These links appear in
association with Amazon.com and any purchases via these links provide a
commission to support learning-org.


Frank Billot <fbillot@pacwan.net>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>