Empowerment: A Brain Drain or Worthy Process? (we know it's not easy)

Empowerment is dangerously close to becoming assumed in the workplace…taken for granted…where it is easily said, but is it truly in place? We have become so accustomed to the word, that we are forgetting we need to cultivate it. It is different than a value, it's an appreciation if you will, not something that can just be expected to happen on its own.

It begets a culture. It takes you places you never knew your business could go. 

You, as a leader, a manager, are responsible for cultivating empowerment.

Empowerment is the allowance of autonomy to achieve the desired outcome: the company’s mission. People are encouraged to act with that purpose in mind; day in and day out, with the rote and with the unforeseeable. That’s a much bigger think tank than a few select individuals calling and approving all the shots, and forget about any bottlenecks holding up the process! There is no delay, just action. This approach contributes impact, creativity, and results. 

The trap we fall into...is that we continue to tell ourselves: 'our people feel empowered', because it's quite challenging to pin down what that entails. I was reminded of how important it is when I heard this example of empowerment at its best:

A couple from San Bernardino was checking in to one of Steve Wynn’s hotels in Vegas. As they and the bellman were heading to their room, the husband realized he did not have his medication, which he literally needed to live. Distraught and disappointed, the couple began making plans to make the return trip home. The bellman, overhearing all of this, intervened. “Let me see if I can help, my brother-in-law lives in San Bernardino, let me call him and perhaps he can drive it out here.”

The couple was dumbstruck at this offer. But the culture of Steve Wynn’s hotels embraces this kind of problem solving approach, whether you are the CEO, or whomever...the mission is simple: Provide a once in a lifetime experience! All employees are empowered to make whatever decision necessary if the outcome is that. With that knowledge, the bellman is able to weave into this mission, all on his own accord (who would think any person would make this offer, never mind a stranger!). No checking with a supervisor, just solving!

How many of us feel empowered enough to provide this level of service and problem solving to our customers? 

Why is cultivating empowerment important and How to do it:

Empowering your team is the only path for lifelong success, for an innovative future. The quality of the service you provide can only be achieved if the unique thoughts, talents, and contributions of the team are celebrated. That’s a big piece of your secret sauce as it cannot be duplicated. Therefore, it is imperative that each person is adding to the collective experience, the collective journey, to make magic happen. Since no two brains are alike, the likelihood of a unique contribution is quite high.

But how do we empower? It seems like a worthy cause, but yet it also seems so abstract?

Think this, to empower, you want to consider yourself similar to that of a gardener. Intentional thought is given to the planting, the nurturing, watering, mending the weeds…all to secure a plentiful harvest. As the leader, the manager, the gardener...focus on cultivating an environment where people will thrive. Start shifting your attention from completing tasks...to influencing the environment in which the tasks are completed. That's where your impact is. 


Let's look at the environment surrounding the following components, does it contribute to growth or is it The Illusion of Empowerment. How these are carried out in your workplace, gauge the level of empowerment you will attain:

  • Delegation: We discussed this in last week’s Leadership Bites, are you Delegating Sincerely, the right way?

  • Relinquishing Control: Allowing for the world to take place around you, to respond with calm first, and then act thoughtfully, allows for you to focus your action. (More on Relinquishing Control here)

  • Availability Anxiety: Are you constantly in the building, or face down in emails, asking for updates, and always 'on'? Do not confuse this with being helpful or having an ‘open door’, it is a subset of relinquishing control. Never mind it will rob you of a personal life, ultimately contributing to you burning out. (Avoid Team Burnout)

  • Training and Development: Does a future with your company mean they learn more, become better? Growth and opportunity seen as possible within the company, and in alignment with their personal goals and success, will provide a sense of autonomy about their career.

  • Sharing of information: Information provides certainty, while progress requires a coordinated effort. Without communication, you have a band of disconnected employees doing their own thing to get by.

  • Feedback: Always.

There is only so much automation that you can bring into your business and your leadership style. Be mindful of where it serves the purpose, but also where it becomes detrimental to growth.


When you see a certain department not performing, struggling, or when something is just 'off', take a look at their surroundings, especially the components above, and ask...what weeds do I need to pull?