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Chapter 19: Method 16: Empowerment

Today's work communities are in a place in time that has changed drastically from that of former work communities. Today's inner leaders are in relationships with people who are essentially volunteers. Their coworkers refuse to be treated the way they once were treated. As a group, today's followers are better educated and far more independent, aware, and wanting. Pfeffer confirms that workers today want to achieve control over their environment and take action to realize this desire.

Defining Empowerment

People are empowered when they individually accomplish collaborative and participative work with their leader and coworkers. Empowerment appeals to the human values of independence, self-reliance, and individualism. It allows people to self-actualize on the job via interesting, challenging work and responsible assignments. People want to make a difference; and when inner leaders empower them to do so, they support their deep psychological needs. Empowered people are more self-confident, self-controlled, and self-motivated. In the act of empowerment, inner leaders gain willing followers.

In its simplest definition, empowerment means "to enable." It is freeing followers to act independently, controlled only on the basis of their results, not activity, events, or methods. The leader's actions to empower also involve sensitizing coworkers to their power and training them in its full use. Empowerment endows followers with the power required to perform a given act or set of actions. It is granting others the practical autonomy to step out and contribute directly to job requirements. It does not mean the leader gives away his or her power; rather it involves adding to the power of coworkers. Empowering others is developmental of the leader's human assets. No one is powerless. Empowerment is sensitizing coworkers to that fact and liberating them to respond accordingly.

Conger and Kanungo define empowerment in motivational terms. They say it means to enable rather than simply to delegate. Bennis says it involves helping people feel useful, assisting them in learning about their work and that of coworkers, and involving them in work-community planning and decision making. Empowerment helps make work exciting for followers. Witham and Glover conclude that empowered employees are more committed. Absent a sense of empowerment, workers respond by withdrawing their full talent, energy, or commitment.

In developing, rewarding, and enabling those around them, leaders are allowing the human assets with which they work to appreciate in value. The leader's actions to empower also involve sensitizing coworkers to their power and training them in its full use. All leaders have the power to empower others (Reuss). Only inner leaders see empowering followers as essential to their success. Henry Miller said that the only way in which someone can lead us is to restore to their work colleagues a belief in their own capacity for self-guidance. That is empowerment.

Elements of Empowerment

Several ideas underlie empowerment. First, people achieve more when they feel the job is worth doing and is challenging enough to arouse their interests. Second, people need to be able to see how their work contributes to the final result. Third, people work harder and more consistently when they feel the result is morally worthwhile and valuable. Fourth, people work harder when there is mutual respect and concern for one another as human beings and mutual integrity among the work-community members. These ideas are appropriate for the chief executive of the work community as well as the lowest worker. Unfortunately, since most CEOs can use other techniques to get workers to do what they want, they do not empower their employees as much as inner leaders do.

Inner leaders empower people because empowered people work harder. They are more committed and attentive to their work when they can function independently and are allowed (encouraged, even) to make use of more of their talents, capacities, and creative selves. Enriching the job assigned to them so it is fuller, more demanding, more complex, and asks more of the total capacities of the follower is attractive to many workers. It increases personal motivation when leaders assign workers tasks that include some control over their work environment and discretion as to when and how work is done.

People who feel their leaders have concern for their personal, individual development and maturation as human beings are more committed to that leader. They will follow a leader whom they feel is concerned for them as individuals, quite apart from what they can do for the work community. Empowered, committed people are also more creative and innovative in their work. They produce more new ways to do the work that challenge past methods. Empowered people focus on their capacities and those of their coworkers. Empowered workers are more open to change, more supportive of change, and more involved in determining the direction of change in the work community. Empowered leaders are hypothesized to be innovative, upward influencing, inspirational, and less focused on monitoring to maintain the status quo (Spreitzer, De Janasz, and Quinn).

There is some risk inherent in empowerment of others. It requires the leader to trust in the essential goodness of followers. Leaders need to trust their followers, their talent, commitment, and capacity to do work independently and in different ways than the leader would use. This is a different mind-set than traditional leadership models. It requires leaders to be teachers of others as they communicate understanding of and commitment to a common vision of the work community's future. This kind of trust, preceded by effective, appropriate training and values displacement, assures cooperative action even when the leader is not physically present.

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).

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 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 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) through delegation that focuses on individual member strengths.

Focusing on Workers

Empowerment focuses primarily on the members of the work community (Plas). 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). 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 and Abraham Maslow. 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 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). 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 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.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. Inner leaders routinely engage in empowering techniques that support deeply held needs of people to be involved.

  2. In doing this, inner leaders pursue two purposes: to attain mutually desirable goals and to help followers develop into mature professionals.

  3. People want to make a difference; and if leaders let them and teach them to do it, they gain willing followers.

  4. The inner leader's task is to allow the human "assets" with which they work to appreciate in value.

  5. Empowerment appeals to the human values of independence, self-reliance, and individualism.

  6. Empowerment means "to enable." It releases the power in others through collaboration.

  7. Empowerment produces results of greater follower achievement, selfsatisfaction, and hard work.

  8. The risk inherent in empowerment is that it asks the leader to trust in the essential goodness of followers.

  9. Empowerment is facilitated by building and using structures that encourage self-reliance.

  10. Empowerment is intellectually connected with several ideas such as teaming, participation, delegation, transformation, developing follower strengths, visioning, self-actualizing, and increased productivity.

  11. Empowering leaders exercise control on the basis of results, not activity, events, or methods.


  1. Do I make specific efforts to increase independent action of employees, expand their decision-making capacities, and more fully use their unique abilities in task accomplishment?

  2. Do I relate to coworkers with the understanding that self-directed action supports deep psychological needs of people in work communities?

  3. Do I treat coworkers as if they want to make a difference?

  4. Do I recognize that coworkers will follow my lead if I let them and teach them to do the work-community's work?

  5. Do I recognize the independence of my coworkers, or do I consistently try to tell them what to do?

  6. Have I established a culture that encourages new ideas and independent thought that enhances the work community's vision?

  7. Do I help others interpret their actions based on the work community's values and vision?

  8. Do I encourage and enthuse coworkers to accomplish vision-directed work?

  9. Am I comfortable with the ambiguity and uncertainty that may come from an autonomous workforce?

  10. Do I encourage coworkers to take personal responsibility for the success of the work community?

Empowerment Learning Activities

Learning to be an inner leader engages the individual leader in behaviors like the following that may be useful to leaders to gain experience and comfort in caring for followers.

Activity 1: Blocks to Empowerment

Introduction. This activity is designed to help participants recognize the readiness of the work community and its members to accept empowerment and recognize the potential blocks to its implementation.

  1. Complete the following questionnaire by checking the appropriate box either yes or no. For each question, think about the current state of your work community or department and tell us what it is.






    1. Is your work community undergoing major change and transition?



    2. Is your work community a startup or new venture?



    3. Is your work community facing increasing competitive pressures?



    4. Is your work community a hierarchical bureaucracy?



    5. Is the predominant leadership in your work community authoritarian and top down?



    6. Is there a great deal of negativism like rehashing and focus on failures?



    7. Are employees provided with reasons for the work community's decisions and actions?



    8. Are performance expectations and goals clearly stated?



    9. Are goals realistic and achievable?



    10. Are rewards clearly tied to performance or the accomplishment of work-community goals and mission?



    11. Are rewards based on competence and accomplishments?



    12. Is innovation encouraged and rewarded?



    13. Are there many opportunities for participation?



    14. Are most tasks routine and repetitive?



    15. Are resources generally appropriate for performing the tasks?



    16. Are opportunities for interaction with senior management limited?

    Scoring key: For items 1 through 6 and 14 and 16, give a score of 1 if you have marked Yes, 0 if you have checked No. For items 7 through 13 and item 15, give a score of 0 to Yes responses and 1 to No.

    Analysis. The maximum possible score is 16. The closer you have rated your work community to that maximum score, the less ready it is for implementation of empowerment. An analysis of individual items can point to specific blocks to the implementation of empowerment.

  2. What are the key blocks to empowerment in your workplace?

  3. What is the role of the inner leader in empowering the team? List as many tasks as you can.

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