The Concept of Empowerment in Leadership by Nicky LaMarco

You may have heard of employee empowerment and figured it was a new buzzword doing the rounds in the world of business. It may be a buzzword, but it’s also a lot more. Employee empowerment is all about putting the authority of the manager to employees who are on the front line and therefore closer to the action. When you give them the authority to make the kinds of decisions that you would only have allowed managers to make before, then we say you are empowering those employees.

This topic has become quite important, and is closely associated with the changing paradigms surrounding management in the 21st century. While leadership in previous centuries was all about absolute power and authority, the kind of leadership being promoted in the 21st century is closer to coaching and is slowly becoming more and more common.

Companies aren’t seeking to boss around their employees anymore; they are less authoritarian and more engaging with their employees and trying to get them involved in the main processes that are carried out at the business.

The Connection With Delegation

When you take a closer look at the concept of empowerment, you come across a related but different concept: delegation.

Over the history of leadership, delegation has always played a crucial role. Leaders generally see a problem and think about how it can be broken down into a series of incremental but individually simpler tasks. They then delegate these tasks to different members of the team so they can carry them out.

When a leader delegates, they have already done much of the legwork. They have considered the problem from a greater perspective and seen what the bigger picture is. They have also broken it down and considered the details. They know exactly what needs to be done for each task and how it should be carried out. They can also see how the different tasks relate to each other on a grander scale.

By the time a member of the team is getting a task to complete, their work is as simple as carrying out a few simple instructions and not thinking too hard about what it is they are doing. This is what much of leadership has been like over the ages.

Empowerment isn’t quite the same. A leader that seeks to empower their team still looks at the bigger picture. They still try and break the greater problem down into more manageable tasks. However, when they give these tasks to employees, they don’t just give them plain instructions to be followed without question. Instead, they explain to them what they are trying to achieve and show them the bigger picture. They communicate the main goal to the team members so they know what they are working toward right off the bat.

Once the leader has told the team member what they are trying to ultimately achieve and then given them a task, they give them a lot more leeway to make authoritative decisions as they see fit. If they think the goal would be achieved more efficiently one way, as opposed to another, then they can pick that method. They don’t need to be supervised by a manager as the leader trusts both their diligence and their decision making abilities.

Therein lies the main difference between delegation management and empowerment management: delegation is based on tasks, which must be carried out to the letter. Empowerment-based leadership is based on decisions and authority vested in the front line employee.

The Theories of Management Styles

According to Douglas McGregor, who wrote the book The Human Side of Enterprise, there are two theories of management: Theory X and Theory Y. These theories are based on the demarcation of leadership into the authoritative style of leadership, which has been styled “Theory X”, and the less authoritative and more coaching side of leadership, otherwise styled as “Theory Y”.

One of the interesting things to note is that Theory Y managers will generally be more opportunistic and optimistic with their employees. They will also be more trusting of them and therefore more likely to give them the power to make key decisions.

The Benefits of Employee Empowerment

There are four main characteristics that can be attributed to the employee when they feel that they are empowered:

  1. An employee who feels empowered will feel that their personal work is important to the organization.
  2. An employee who feels empowered will be better able to perform tasks successfully.
  3. An employee who feels empowered will be free to choose how to begin and end tasks that they have been given.
  4. The personal behavior of an empowered employee will contribute to important outcomes within the organization.

When those four conditions are met, we say that the employee has been empowered, and it is when an employee is empowered in this way that they are better able to be persistent and innovative in their work.

Studies have also shown that empowering subordinates had a positive effect on the creativity of an employee. Such employees will have a higher amount of intrinsic motivation and so they will be more engaged in their work. They will be more involved in the process of recognizing problems, gathering information, analyzing it, and finding novel solutions to problems, which is all part of creativity.

Of course, not all jobs need creativity. However, all jobs will encounter some kind of problem sooner or later. It is when those problems come knocking at your door that you need your employee to be creative in dealing with them. They need to be capable of meeting them head on and planning and implementing their own solutions to the problems. It is your most empowered employees who give you the ability to truly shine as a leader.

There are other benefits that are associated with empowering your employees. In a way, they are also ways in which you can empower your employees:

Work Becomes a Lot More Meaningful

Empowering your employees means making them understand the goals, purpose, and objectives of your company. It also means making them understand how important their work is to the company when it comes to achieving all of those.

Employees Participate More in the Decision Making Process

When your employees are empowered, it means you will consult them more on the decisions that directly affect them within the company. It also means you will share with them the responsibility of making decisions within the company.

Employees Will Feel More Confident in Their Performance

When you empower your employees, you will let them know that you believe in them and their ability to handle the most demanding tasks. You also believe that they can improve, even when they commit mistakes.

Employees Will be Free of Bureaucratic Constraints

When you empower employees, you allow them to expediently make decisions that ensure the needs of the customer are satisfied. You also keep the regulations and policies simple so that they are free in how they will perform their job.

Empowerment Management

Employee empowerment is quite a popular concept. However, it isn’t easy to implement in all environments. For starters, managers who aren’t very good at the Theory Y style of management may first need to be trained to get the value of empowering their employees and how to trust their work and give them an appropriate level of empowerment. They would also have to learn not to criticize them harshly as this would deter them from making decisions. Instead, it would be better to discuss their decisions with them and how they can improve.


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