The topic of empowerment has been making its way into the workplace a lot, lately. Well, not lately. It’s been there for a long time. Lingering around while we divert your eyes to shiny things like culture and AI. Employees have always wanted a voice when it’s convenient for them.
My good friend, Mary Faulkner*, wrote a fantastic piece on empowerment and even talked about it in the podcast. She makes great points on how companies say they want to empower their people, but then behave in ways that counteract empowerment. She provides some excellent points and provides some simple steps that companies can take to empower their people.
Leaders seek empowerment, but then behave in ways that are counterproductive to empowerment. The quickest way leaders can lose any sense of empowerment is by first answering a question with, “let me run it by leadership.” You thought you were never empowered before? By uttering this phrase right of the bat, you are instantly stripped of any sense of empowerment you thought you had.
You don’t need to be crowned the king or queen of empowerment to make an informed decision or demonstrate leadership qualities. Take a common question from your employees around compensation. When an employee approaches you for more money, instead of immediately responding with, “let me go check with management,” take this opportunity to ask a few questions. First of all, let me remind you that you are “management.” Even if you don’t have the sole authority to make a salary adjustment, (by the way, most of those decisions aren’t made in a vacuum) use this opportunity to find out more. Chances are, the issue isn’t solely about money.
And don’t use the “lack of empowerment” play when you don’t want to take on a difficult issue or answer a tough question. It is so easy to respond with, “I don’t have the authority to make that call, I need to check with leadership,” when you can address the issue. Like any conflict, this isn’t always easy, but when you take the time to address a difficult situation, you not only gain empowerment, you gain respect.
You don’t need validation or permission to be empowered when you take a moment to step back and assess the situation. When posed with a question that you may not have an immediate answer to, or one you don’t want to answer immediately, take a deep breath and ask some clarifying questions.
Empowerment is earned just as much as it is given.