Leadership Qualities–Empowerment

Of all the things that leaders can do to cripple their organizations, disabling their employees’ ability to think creatively about solving problems is one of the worst. Forcing employees to hide behind rigid, cookie-cutter policies and solutions doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest–not the company’s, not the employee’s and certainly not the customer’s.  Employees should be empowered and confident enough to make decisions that add value to the company, not take it away.  In order to do this, employers must give the employee a stamp of approval that says to the employee that he or she is capable of not only thinking of a win-win solution, but also executing it. Here begins empowerment.

Empowerment is increasing the spiritual, social, political, or economic strength of individuals, communities or organizations.  Employee responsibility has always been highly motivating, efficient and rewarding.  This is because in leadership, the goal is not control.  In fact, it is just the opposite–its about empowering people. Empowerment gives an employee the desire to do their job magnificently. They are confident in their ability to problem solve and because of it, they tend to develop better ideas and processes, freely create and innovate and feel good about what they have done.  Empowerment helps people to overcome obstacles by thinking. This aids tremendously in self-development.

Additionally, empowerment is efficient because employees will do what they are supposed to do if given opportunities to service their own interest at some point. Sound counterproductive? Not so fast. Consider a child at school. Each day he has to sit in a classroom doing what he is told (having someone else decide what to do, how to do it and what to be interested in)  or face the consequences for bad behavior (i.e. going to the principal’s office, getting suspended, etc.). Now, just like any other human on the planet, children need an outlet to explore things that appeal to them (read: recess). When children are allowed recess each day, the instances of disciplinary action are dramatically decreased (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090126173835.htm).

Now if adults used to be children and our brains are generally still hardwired the same way, what does this mean? Adults need recess, too! Its good for them and the organizations they work for. It allows them to service their own interests and they feel like the organization is interested in helping them to develop themselves as well as the company.

As with any leadership quality, there are some identifiable characteristics of empowerment. Empowered people usually:

  • have the ability to make decisions regarding personal and/or collective (read: company) situations.
  • exercise assertiveness in the decision-making process
  • consider a wide range of options when making the decision (not just yes, no or “policy states…”)
  • think outside the box
  • have access to tools and information necessary to make good decisions
  • are confident in their ability to develop win-win solutions
  • have access to tools and resources to help them make better decisions
  • can help inform others’ ability to make informed decision through exchange and education

These capabilities are good for both the empowered (the employee) and the empower-er (the leader or organization). First because all of the self-development that comes with a person learning to have confidence in his or her own abilities is priceless.  There is no dollar figure large enough to slap onto a confident person. Secondly, empowered people take ownership. They make better decisions because they feel trusted and valued. Finally, because empowered people become internal brand evangelists (Seriously, how many times have you heard a company’s employees sound like they enjoy going to work each day?).  Because they feel valued (and so few companies value their employees), they spread tend to spread the “good news” of the company to everyone they come into contact with.

People are an organizations most costly, yet valuable asset.  They are a respository of knowledge, creativity and innovation. Empower the people around you.  Empowered people take initiate and are crucial to the development and exectution of strategies, programs, and products.  All companies need a competitive advantage and, since a lot of companies don’t value their employees, your employees should be yours.

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