Our Articles

Lead and Grow with Fortitude

Empowered and Afraid

One of my favorite buzzwords in the business world today is the word “Empowered.”

What does it mean? I hear it used by employees, team members, executives, senior executives, CEO’s and Board members. Everyone wants to feel empowered, or empower others. I have noted how senior executives and members of the “C” suite want their subordinate leaders to feel more empowered.

Asking what exactly does that mean, I do get a reasonably consistent answer. It is giving subordinates the latitude to make decisions, to take action. Take action without the need to get permission for every action taken.

The idea of empowerment can be confusing. I hear senior executives lamenting over subordinate leaders not accepting the level of empowerment that is being given. I understand from junior leaders the desire to be more empowered. Is empowerment a hot potato no one wants to hold?

Being empowered is having the authority to make decisions and take action without having to receive permission. It is a situation everyone seems to want, but not many know how to handle. It becomes a word used and a reality many fear.

I have found many leaders use the word empowered and they are afraid to exercise that empowerment because they have no idea how to make decisions. They are not familiar with any decision-making process. They have no idea that there is a cycle to decision-making. Moreover, they are not familiar with developing viable alternatives and weighing the risk.

The very thought of exercising their empowerment, making decisions, for many is like winning a hot dog eating contest—you won, but you’re going to be sick.

Senior leaders, help out those you want to empower. Teach them how to make decisions. There is a methodology. Give them parameters on what they can and cannot do without your input. When things go wrong, and things always go wrong, be curious, not condemning. You now have a teachable moment. Ask the fundamental questions—What happened? What did you learn? What will you do in the future to avoid similar results?

Leaders at every level regardless of industry are fearful of making decisions. They have never been taught how. No one wants to be wrong. No one wants the finger pointed at him or her for his or her error. Instead, leaders go on the quest for the perfect decision. The perfect decision does not exist. In the end, few take on the empowerment that is given, and even fewer who ask for more empowerment want it. They are afraid.

The cure for fear is knowledge. Teach first, empower second; the great results may surprise you.