Power Your People – Stop Dis-Empowering Them!

by Susanne Burgstaller

A blooming garden of powerful talent

Empowerment – I hate that word. Why? Because the way managers use it smacks of command-and-control.“Empowering our staff” usually means that they choose to give a little bit of power back to their people – if and when it suits them. And that these people then have to be duly grateful and act as they are expected to act.

In the “real world” people have plenty of power: they make huge decisions for themselves – choosing a partner, buying a house, having children etc. Nobody would dream of questioning their competence or power to make these far-reaching decisions.

Inside organisations people are often treated as children.

“May I sign this contract please? May I travel to that customer meeting? Must I execute this strategy? Are you pleased with me? May I develop in my career?”

Thus people often live in a state of disempowerment for years, if not decades, caged in by the narrowest of guidelines and expectations. When the call comes for self-organisation, taking over responsibility, forming autonomous teams, “empowered action”, managers are grieved that these same obedient people do not respond accordingly.

The trouble is: In the classical management hierarchy, empowerment is usually expected to happen within the framework of imposed goals. Think about it for a moment:

Do you as a private individual take full responsibility for the execution of someone else´s goals?

I certainly don´t.

So, what to do if you as a manager want to see more engagement, self-organisation and a proactive assumption of responsibility on the part of your people? How can you “power” your people?

Be the first to change!

  • Change your attitude: Your people are adults, not children. They are potentially valuable partners, not your enemies.
  • Ask for their opinion. Give them a voice, particularly regarding decisions that they need to execute in the future. Decisions that in the past you might have reserved only for yourself or the other executives.
  • Listen to them intently and with a constructive ear: Listen for good ideas, contributions, suggestions, good will.
  • Encourage them to bring their own suggestions instead of just questions about how your decisions should be executed.
  • Ask for their help and learn from them and with them.
  • Be patiently aware that everyone needs time to adapt. The longer the state of disempowerment has lasted, the more time and patience will be required.

Most of all:

Get out of the sun!

Don´t keep your staff members in the dark about top-level information, the shaping of strategy and important decision-making. Let them shine! Feed them with the same information you have access to, as well as with appreciation, support and opportunities to try out new things. That way you will soon have a blooming garden of powerful talent around you.

Susanne Burgstaller has worked in organisational development and change for nearly 35 years. She writes about Solution-Focus, organisational development, change and leadership, and coaches and mentors change coaches.

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