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METHODS OF PRACTICING EMPOWERING LEADERSHIP

The move to empower employees redefines both the work community and its members’ lives. Although powerful roadblocks to change still exist, successful inner leaders act on the belief that broad participation by all stakeholders is the most compelling strategy for designing and implementing lasting change in organizations. It is increasingly clear that participation improves organizations. It empowers people in all parts of work life. Research shows workplace participation results in greater political participation (Plas, 1996).

Increased participation in the workplace will better align both leader and led with the inner leader’s vision of freedom and democracy, helping to create the genuine democracy that nurtures human progress and increases bottom line results Enabling others involves the inner leader in creating situations where work community members can self-motivate. The techniques may be as simple as providing as much information as possible to as many stakeholders as possible about what they and others are doing and need to do. When leaders enable their followers, they allow them room to take risks without mindless controls. This helps workers find a place in the work community where they can make full use of their strengths for the benefit of themselves and the work community. It is following Peter Drucker’s (1988) advice to emphasize the strengths of employees in job assignments.

Empowerment is intellectually connected with leadership theory ideas like teaming and community building. Use of team, or other participative action structures, implies empowerment, although few theorists identify it explicitly. Empowerment is also part of transformational leadership theory. The underlying idea behind this concept of leadership is to choose purposes and visions based on follower strengths and interests and create a structure supporting them. Transformational leadership implies changing the individual, as well as the work community. It is self-actualizing. Transformational leadership enables both leaders and followers to reach higher levels of accomplishment and motivation. It releases human potential for the collective pursuit of the common goals. Consequently, it is empowering. McGregor’s (1960) Theory Y is another intellectual foundation of empowerment. People who fundamentally believe that others are good, want to work, and accept responsibility will give those others the opportunity to use these capacities. That behavior is empowering.

Empowerment engages the inner leader in the kinds of actions described in the following sections.

Goal Setting

Empowerment begins with goals. Inner leaders clearly relate work-community and individual follower goals. The fundamental mechanism is the vision statement, a concise amalgam of the basic purpose for which the work community exists. An effective vision relates directly to both individual and work-community ideas of purpose and articulates the value of joint effort. Properly stated and widely communicated, the vision statement triggers followers’ interest. They must see in adherence to its challenge a way to exercise their various talents. It must challenge them to want to become involved in planning, policy, and process decisions and in other ways they can individually contribute in recognizable ways.

Empowerment requires the inner leader to set the vision, communicate it broadly, and inform coworkers about the work community, its purposes, processes, accomplishments, and shortcomings. Thus, leaders become facilitators of the work of others. In effect, they go to work for the follower. They provide necessary authority and the physical, operational, and psychological resources and services the follower needs to be effective. Inner leaders must also be prepared to have the work done in ways different from the ways they would use. It is possible that the work will be done better. It is conceivable, at least in the beginning, that it will be done worse. It will almost always be done differently. Acceptance of the need for flexibility in method and even in results is part of the preparation of the leader for empowerment of his or her followers.

Challenging Followers

Empowerment works when followers see that adhering to its challenge is a way to mature their various talents. Empowerment challenges followers to want to become involved. It is accomplished via participative efforts between leader and worker. It asks leaders to use innate values of independence, self-reliance, and individualism to challenge workers to sacrifice for the leader and for the work community as a way to self-actualize on the job.

Delegating to Followers

Key in empowering others is delegation of job assignments and decisions to the lowest possible level and allowing room for coworkers to take risks without undue controls or tight accountability. This kind of delegation by inner leaders helps workers find their niche—the place in the work community where their strengths can be best used to the benefit of workers, the inner leader, the work community, and the larger corporation itself. Empowering inner leaders create job situations where workers can be self-motivated, not intimidated. They provide as much information as possible to as many people as possible about what they and others are doing and their degree of success. They do not suppress data about the work. Effective inner leaders take the time and effort to recognize individual differences and use them constructively (Truskie, 1999) through delegation that focuses on individual member strengths.

Focusing on Workers

Empowerment focuses primarily on the members of the work community (Plas, 1996). Effective inner leaders actively encourage their coworkers to acknowledge their true feelings and values and their personal goals and aspirations to help them learn who they are and then use that knowledge in joint work activity. This expression of their authentic selves can occur only in an environment where workers feel secure—a community accepting of divergent views and opinions, one in which the inner leader really cares about them.

Encouraging Participation

To enable individual workers and ask for real participation, inner leaders must first take advantage of the power of the individual by transforming it to create an environment where individuals can work together—exploiting their differences to the benefit of the work community and themselves (Plas, 1996). This can be done only in a work community where mutual cooperation and interdependence are built into the structure of work assignments.

The psychological foundations of this kind of participatory leadership are rooted in the counseling philosophies of psychologists such as Carl Rogers (1964) and Abraham Maslow (1962). Several guidelines direct the inner leader’s empowering efforts. To empower followers to full participation is to give them meaningful work to do and to recognize their accomplishments as often as possible. Perhaps the most beneficial contribution of participatory inner leadership is its fundamental role in making workers into an effective community.

Specifying Follower Roles

Plas (1996) argues that values like individualism that undergird contemporary diversity ideas can subvert attempts to implement successful community strategies. She recommends that work communities be structured—like a sports team—with a specific role for each member. This role specialization enables each member to make unique contributions and permits the personal recognition needed to satisfy the individualist spirit that typifies most Americans. When each work community member has a unique role to play, the emphasis shifts from the group to the individual.

Encouraging Self-Reliance

The essence of cooperative action is member empowerment. Work communities led by inner leaders have to rely on the willingness and capacity for members to manage themselves for their professional and work goals to be met because a large part of work-community life involves members making decisions on their own (Kulwiec, 2001). Self-reliant work communities represent a major paradigm shift from classical hierarchal organizational structures.

A key part of empowerment is building and implementing self-reliance in the workers. Inner leaders form work-community structures and operating systems that facilitate workers’ taking personal responsibility for seeing that the work that needs doing gets done. Such self-reliant work structures include the overarching culture that provides grounding for all that is done and all relationships systems used. These cultures honor independence in thought and action. Inner leaders create these structures and ensure that that kind of development and growth happens. These leaders also ensure that they change as the needs of coworkers and the purposes of the larger community change.

Centered in a vitalizing vision, self-reliant cultural systems allow workers maximum independence of action within the context of an interdependent system of values, rules of behavior, and standards for measuring success. Leaders concerned with fostering follower self-reliance engage in actions to encourage followers to get involved in the work community’s work and use the work community’s accepted behavior patterns—patterns that involve independent action.

Kulwiec (2001) says such work units set target performance goals and track progress toward those goals. The areas tracked for improvement might include such activities as safety, quality, cooperation, productivity, and scheduling, as well as continuous improvement. Although independent work performance is an important criterion, each individual is also responsible for his or her own performance to the inner leader and to colleagues.

Other Empowerment Techniques

A review of the literature reveals other ways to empower members of work communities to help the inner leader attain his or her goals for the community. They include the following:

  1. Letting members talk to anybody in the firm to resolve problems and get the job done.

  2. Ask members for their contributions and ideas.

  3. Give work-community members full control of their own operations.

  4. Involve members in selecting all new recruits.

  5. Get members to train their colleagues.

  6. Adopt individual member-set objectives at every level.

  7. Adopt self-assessment appraisals.

  8. Give each community member responsibility for assets and areas of the common work.


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