5 Reasons Empowerment is Failing (and How to Make it Better)


Empowerment is an amazing thing. Every employer I know wants employees who solve problems and take responsibility for their actions. In a nutshell, they want empowered employees. Every employee I know wants to be trusted and given flexibility in the way they do their job. In a nutshell, they want to be empowered employees.

While empowerment may have been a huge buzzword for the past decade or more, it is perhaps the least understood of most management practices. The concept is simple. If we give people more responsibility, then they’re empowered. If we give people the power to make decisions, then they’re empowered. But empowerment is so much more than that. It is based far more on culture than distribution of tasks — and that is the reason empowerment is failing in most organizations.

In order for empowerment to work, the culture of an organization must be built on trust. If an employee doesn’t feel he/she can fail without the fear of being disciplined or fired, real empowerment will never take place. Sadly, the lack of understanding of true empowerment causes a considerable amount of disengagement in employees because it simply does not work. In fact, here are 5 reasons empowerment is failing (and how to make it better):

(1) Leaders seldom provide enough information when they empower employees.

Everyone reading this blog needs information to make good decisions. As you move toward an empowered environment where employees make their own decisions, you must give them the same information you require to make sound decisions.

(2) Leaders seldom give authority with the responsibility.

As leaders, we have both authority and responsibility (or at least we should have both). For most managers, when they give responsibility, they assume the authority goes along with it. “Give someone a task and get out of the way!” If you give them a task, ultimate success will be based on the level of authority they have to complete the task.

(3) Leaders seldom share their power when they empower employees.

If you truly want employees around you to succeed in an empowered environment, then you must share your power. Most employees who have never worked in an empowered organization have never had the power to make decisions, so it’s going to take a while for them to get comfortable.

(4) Leaders spend too much time solving the problems of employees.

Most employees bring problems to their bosses to find someone else to make the decision. To move toward empowerment, require employees to bring you three possible solutions to any challenge they may have. Ask them which they would choose if they were making the decision, and determine if you support it. If you have good employees, you will be amazed at how often they come up with the right solution without any help from management.

(5) Leaders seldom get their teams thinking about problems and solutions.

If there isn’t much true empowerment in your organization today, your team members probably try to avoid problems. Create specific processes that reward employees for finding problems and suggesting solutions to fix them. This exercise creates a complete shift in thinking which helps make the transition to an empowered organization.

When all is said and done, more is said than done when it comes to empowerment. It’s not an easy task, but it’s an essential element of organizational success. Not only will it increase productivity, it will increase the engagement of employees.

Clint Swindall

© 2015 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit www.verbalocity.com, or contact him directly clint@verbalocity.com.

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