Please Sir, can I be empowered?

I attended a networking event recently, where I found myself talking to a business leader who bemoaned to me that his people didn’t take action. Didn’t take the initiative. ‘They just need to be empowered’, he said to me. I asked him what this would look like, how he would know when he had it, when he had been successful in creating this empowered organisation. He looked at me for a while. ‘They’ll just get on and do stuff, without waiting to be asked’, was the reply.

The problem with the conversation was twofold. Firstly, look at his first statement. There is no recognition, that he, as a senior member of staff, has the responsibility for creating this environment, this belief within his team that they can and they should. That it will be okay, and there won’t be any blame, repercussions, liability.

There are some people that will just make the decision for themselves to take the ownership, make the decision, assume the power. To JFDI, if you will. But they are few are far between. Most people need to be told that it is okay. They need reassurance and guidance, a signal. And this is the responsibility of the leaders of the organisation.

When people ask me for permision to do something simple, everyday, straightforward, I see it as a failure. A failure that I have failed to communicate to them previously that it okay for them to make their own decision, just get on and do what they think is best, weigh up the pros and cons and crack on.

Telling people it is okay is just the start. You need to continually show that you mean it. Recognise people for trying, deciding, getting on with it. Encourage those that step forward first. Inspire the rest to do the same. Even if the whatever it is doesn’t work out quite like it would have done if you had done it, made the call, signed some formal approval document, then embrace it just the same.

If you really want empowerment that is. it’s a nice sounding word. Its sounds collaborative, engaging, like the sort of thing a good leader should want. But not everyone is ready for the reality of handing over their power to others.

Leaders. If you want empowerment then it is your job to create it. Create the culture in which people feel that they can. Power is vested within you by virtue of the role you hold, your job title with the important sounding words. Only you can give it away to others. Let them know the parameters in which they can work, and then get the hell out of their way.

Be brave. And let someone else JFDI.

3 thoughts on “Please Sir, can I be empowered?

  1. Do I need to be ‘engaged’ before I am ‘empowered’ or does that come before or after I am ‘involved’? God this is all so confusing.

  2. Enjoyed reading your blog HR Gem, whilst I was queuing for my morning coffee! Totally agree about creating the right environment. It’s easy to blame “the people” but a good leader looks at things more broadly. Liked what you said about letting people know the parameters and then getting the hell out of their way. Simple but true. We have to trust people – after all, isn’t that why we employed them. Question what does JFDI mean?

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