Everyone talks about empowering their staff, but I wonder how many managers actually do so. To empower someone is to provide them with the opportunity to take on responsibilities and to have the authority commensurate with that responsibility.
Let me give you an example or two about what happens when you dis-empower people.
I was consulting to an American telecommunications company when they were purchased by a French company. Prior to the purchase, managers and directors had responsibility and the authority to make decisions. They had respect and visibility. For example, if a manager (or even someone not in management) had a good idea, it was that person who presented the idea to the appropriate audience, including the CEO. Responsibility and authority were pushed down to the lowest logical level and employees were given opportunity to shine and to grow their skills. Promotions were based on the assessment of performance.
Well, the French company worked differently. All decisions were made at the highest level (across the pond) and if you had a good idea, your job was to make your boss look better, and he made his boss look better, and eventually only the senior vice-presidents had public visibility and acclaim.
Another way you dis-empower people is to micro-manage them and step between them and the others with whom they are working. It happened to me recently. I am an ex-officio member of a board of directors and had assumed responsibility for finding a commercial realtor and starting the process of looking for new space for the organization. Having worked with a fine commercial realtor before, I mentioned that I would contact him and set up a preliminary appointment.
A member of the board said he wanted to join me and I said sure. Instead, he called my realtor, introduced himself as “in charge” and undercut my professional relationship with the man.. In addition, he showed up at the meeting, and took over, even going so far as to mention that he had information not available to me – and that he and I were only 80% in agreement (I have no idea where we were either in agreement or in disagreement.) In effect, he pushed me aside.
When I called him on it – he did it again. He wonders why the fun has gone out of the project for me.
Now, when you empower people, they get energized, motivated, and stretch their abilities to prove to you that your confidence in them was justified.
Which would you prefer?