How Has the Movement Toward Empowerment Changed the Role of the Manager? by Neil Kokemuller

When effectively implemented, employee empowerment has changed the role of the manager from being authoritative to being more of a coach. This is especially important in small businesses that usually rely on fewer employees to make decisions and to get work done efficiently.

Employee empowerment means placing more decision-making authority in the hands of employees. The level of decision-making authority given to employees varies by company and manager, but the general idea is that employees can make decisions once reserved only for managers. Empowerment has become more common in the early 21st century as companies recognize benefits to both employees, who feel a stronger sense of involvement, and customers, who might get prompter resolution to problems.

Traditional Management

The traditional manager, defined as “Theory X” by Douglas McGregor in his 1960 book “The Human Side of Enterprise,” is more authoritative and has a generally pessimistic view on the ability of employees to do work without strong management influence. This style did not lend itself to empowerment because it was accepted as fact that employees lacked intelligence and motivation to make wise decisions. This management style thrived during most of the 20th century.

Transition to Theory Y

The “Theory Y” coaching style outlined in McGregor’s book began to take grip of business and management during the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Managers in the coaching style generally believe that employees are capable and will deliver good results and make responsible decisions if they work in an environment that motivates them to do so. Thus, managers that give employees the power to make decisions should also train them, encourage them to have confidence, and offer some type of incentive that motivates them to want to make good decisions.


Not all managers and all employees are as natural at fitting into an empowerment-centered workplace. Some managers struggle turning over control for decisions to employees. Some employees lack confidence and the drive to take on the responsibility. Managers need to balance their own leadership styles with the understanding that actively involved employees are usually more satisfied at work, stay longer and produce better results. They also need to realize the benefit to customers if employees can quickly and competently help them when a manager is not available.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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