The Power of Empowerment
Leadership is not just about how we lead others.  It is also about how we lead ourselves.

It is difficult to genuinely care for others, for example, if we do not also care for ourselves.

While we may put ourselves last occasionally (or regularly, but that’s a story for another day), we must apply the same leadership principles to ourselves if we want to make them core to who we are and how we lead.

Empowerment is a perfect example of this concept.

What is Empowerment?

There are two primary definitions regarding empowerment.  The most common definition is to give someone authority or power.  An alternate definition is to make someone stronger and more confident.

Leaders do both.  Empowerment often begins with new and challenging assignments.  They come with the power to work them independently, knowing there is support nearby if needed.

Those same assignments, when completed successfully, build confidence.  Knowledge that more challenges can be taken and mastered.

While this practice is critical to the success of all leaders, before we can empower others, we have to empower ourselves.


The Power of Self-Empowerment

How can we provide authority to our teams if we do not have any ourselves?  How can we build their confidence if we do not know how to build our own?

The secret of great leaders is that they have empowered themselves.  They have assumed authority over their decisions, their work and their teams – regardless of whether it has been explicitly given.

Over the years, I have mentored many junior managers, formally responsible for others for the first time.  In these new roles, they are often unsure of what is allowed.

If they are uncomfortable with what they can and cannot do, that means they will be unsure when interacting with their teams.  When providing assignments or challenges.

When I receive questions from these new managers, asking whether something is okay or not, my response is always the same.  “Does it seem reasonable to you?”

Those poor folks.  They just want a yes or no answer and I provide a completely unhelpful response.

Until closer inspection.


The Power of Reason

As leaders, we are paid to use our knowledge and experience to evaluate unexpected situations and make decisions.  People are not predictable.  They are not widgets.  If we want to lead them, we have to be able to anticipate and respond to situations that are not in any manual.

We are empowered by the very nature of our role, but until we embrace our power with confidence, we will be plagued by self-doubt.  And our teams will be limited by it.

Using reason, we can determine if there is prior precedent for the situation at hand.  If not, what would any reasonable person be expected to do in this situation?

I remember one of my former supervisors making a difficult decision while I was out of the office.  I returned to him trying to explain what he did and why.

Me:  “Was I here?”

Him:  “No.”

Me:  “Did you make the best decision you could given the circumstances?”

Him:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Then you did exactly the right thing, no matter what it was.”

This is why I do not provide yes or no answers when asked about a given circumstance.   All that does is build confidence in MY power.


Empowered, but not Perfect

If we want to build confidence in others, we have to allow them to make the best decisions they can given what they know and without all the answers.

That also means we have to first allow ourselves to make decisions without all the answers.  When we’re uncomfortable and worry that we might make a mistake.  We have to get to the other side and realize we lived through it.

Even if we make a mistake and decide to do something different next time – that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.  Leadership is not about being perfect.  It’s about being willing to be responsible for ourselves and others as we walk that tightrope to successful outcomes together.


What does empowerment mean to you?  How do you live leadership through empowerment?  Please share your comments below and keep the conversation going.