Empowering Employees

One of several myths that pervade management thinking is that it is the manager’s job is to empower employees. This is the kissing cousin to the belief that the manager’s job is to motivate employees. I propose that these notions are carryovers from our ‘paternalistic past’ where the boss is the father figure for the employee ‘children’.

As any parent knows, if you buy into this the kids will manipulate you by how they ‘feel’ and develop bad behavior to get your attention and continuously push the limit of what they can get away with.

It is time to stop treating our employees like children we wish would grow up and start relating to them as adults who have been behaving like children.

Empowerment, for example, is not authority or autonomy or has anything to do with ‘how you feel’. Empowerment means you have what you need to accomplish whatever you are committed to – including an adult relationship with those who have authority if required to accomplish what you want to accomplish.  If you don’t have what you need then you need to ask someone for it. Transform your complaints into requests.

If you are a manager who wishes to ‘empower your employees’ or have them be open and candid with you then you must start relating to them as being empowered.  This means you need to know what it is that they are committed to. Their actions are always a function of their commitments anyway. Your job is to align yours and their commitments in the context of the organization’s mission and then coach them to accomplish their commitments – not try to force or control  (motivate/manipulate) their behavior to give you what you want.

One of the obvious but obscure facts of life is that ‘we’ can never commit to anything.  Commitment is exclusively and always an individual action. We can align our individual commitments, but we can never force someone else to commit. While you might get compliance from time to time if you press hard enough, at the end of the day the actions revert to ‘going through the motions’ as soon as you relieve the pressure.  For the practical reason that things are moving too fast to keep relying on the myth of motivation and control it is time to transform our organizations into networks of empowered individuals coordinating their commitments.

The correlate of this truth, however, is that none of us can fulfill our commitments by ourselves. We need other human beings. So while only the individual commits – relationships and practices for coordination within the community or team or network are the basis for accomplishing results.  If individuals aren’t empowered they cannot coordinate. The key to empowerment is authentic conversations about what we are committed to and what is missing for us to accomplish it.

Guest Blogger: Jim Selman, Principal at Paracomm Partners International. Paracomm is an international consulting firm committed to building transformational leaders. See Jim’s bio HERE.

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