Empowerment, well designed, closes the trust gap, reduces exhaustion, and diminishes motivation. It revolutionizes organization and corporate culture.
The Empowerment Gap, Part One
We have created a costly gap. In over 20 years of consultancy, I haven’t seen corporations progressing much with Empowerment. The restrictiveness felt in many organizations, and the lack of trust between layers have been damaging for far too long.
It is time leaders and employees make more significant efforts to change their personal Empowerment Strategies.
What was it again?
Short but sweet, it comes down to this: It’s when you give employees a certain degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making in their daily work. The degrees of freedom and level of responsibility are contextual, so leaders and teams can set those together, and this is precisely where it often fails.
Empowerment is like a dance, not just a foxtrot, too simple! It is much more like a tango,
which requires much more skill, soul, technique, flexibility, posture, and practice. In the tango, ‘ passionate leadership’ enters a fusion with ‘challenging followership,’ resulting in a crucial ‘rewarding Partnership.’ Tango dancers make great ‘suggestions,’ ‘send irresistible invitations’ and make challenging gestures. They perform together in beauty; it is excellent to perform and a joy to watch. They would stumble and fall if they don’t trust and rely on each other. So why can we not do this on the shop floor? Let’s make ‘Tango’ our future strategy to make Empowerment work like never before.
Why it matters.
Empowerment is a family member of trust and accountability, and they form the most powerful triangle for ongoing misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration.
It matters because the Empowerment Gap puts a massive brake on organizations.
It is intellectually well understood, so most of us can tell a good story about it and even sound like experts, yet the way Empowerment works is still very mediocre. It remains a massive, ignored source of waste of time, morale, and possibility.
Deeply engrained obsolete beliefs about leadership remain too dominant.
Leaders: Desperate frustration
We often hear frustrations like: “They should just lead, but they don’t?” (so I have to step in) or: “They should know, why don’t they get it?”. These are statements from frustrated bosses who do not understand why their teams don’t grab more ownership, don’t ‘just’ understand the market better, or run their program more tightly.
These so-called ‘shoulds’ don’t get us anywhere; all they do is create an atmosphere of blame and diminishing confidence. We see a much more positive impact when leaders can coach people from this ‘not-leading, not-getting trapped by replacing all the assumptions about what should be with ‘how can I help set you up better?’. This, though, requires a significant mindset shift and a letting go of some old blocking beliefs.
Employees: Restriction and under-appreciation
People in the hierarchy often feel restricted and underappreciated but, at the same time, do not show enough courage and will to close the gap. They are squashing their talent when they keep agreeing to vague guidance and are not engaging to offer their bosses to ‘sponsor’ more robust, much bolder, and attractive proposals.
“He rushes in, is always pressed for time, is unclear, and runs off again but expects us to get it.” Both leaders and co-workers often are unhappy with the current balance of power, responsibility, and ownership, but they are also stuck in this comfort zone; at least they know what they have, and neither needs to stretch or get a little less comfortable. And that is the definition of mediocrity.
Don’t be mediocre!
The assumption that speaking up to power can be tricky is such a mediocre excuse. It is not about speaking up but much more about building proposals, standing behind them, and consulting leadership. Identify what red flags you need to be alert to and invite them to support.
When leaders hold on to the incredibly limiting belief that things ‘should just happen,’ they are stuck with two feet in the mediocrity trap. Well-designed Empowerment is the rescuing remedy for this horrible stuck-ness in the hierarchy. Leading today is leading in a new world overwhelmed by very distractive megatrends, like significant geopolitical tensions, wars on our doorstep, climate change, the uncertainties of AI, extremism, changing work-life ethos, and the great migration that all feed into vast amounts of daily disturbing negativity. No matter how smart and strong, nobody remains unaffected.
Traditional, top-down ways of leading cannot guide others through this complexity.
Fixing problems that arise along the way takes too long and is too costly.
So, what can we do, as leaders and as co-workers?
End of part one.
In Part II, I will talk about what leaders and their co-workers can do to establish Empowerment, increase trust levels, and, as a result, create a much better work climate.