Empowerment or Delegation


I scratch my head when I hear people brag about how much they “empower their people” because with one or two questions it becomes fully apparent that they have their definitions messed up.  All too often managers empower their employees to achieve a result the way “they” (the leader) want it done.  In the manager’s mind they are empowering because they “think” they are allowing the employee to succeed or fail on their own.  Personally, I love that delusion because it ensures demand for my profession!

Most of you know I like simple, so here in simplest terms is the difference.  To delegate means to have someone else do something that you would otherwise have to do. To empower someone means to give someone power to accomplish an end (hence “empower”).  The difference between the two is ownership.

I see three things that are required for empowerment.

  • First, you have to give them enough authority to make some significant and important decisions (like how to proceed).  In other words you have to give power away and trust they will use it appropriately.
  • Secondly, you have to provide the resources that they need – people, money, etc.
  • Lastly, you have to hold them accountable.  You can’t just give away your responsibility, you have to hold them accountable so they have true ownership

While there is a proper time for both approaches (delegation with direction, delegation with empowerment), I suggest empowerment more often than not and here is a little of my reasoning:

  • Delegation offers short-term benefits, but little in the way of long-term value;  Empowerment on the other hand, might require a little more input initially, but the long-term value is significant.
  • Empowerment grows leaders while delegation emphasizes dependence and direction
  • Delegation is “you” centric while empowerment is “employee” centric

So the next time you catch yourself “empowering” someone, check your definition with those simple explanations.  If you can’t honestly say that you meet all three requirements listed above, quit fooling yourself and change what you’re doing or quit saying what you’re saying.  Empowering employees really is pretty simple, just not easy!  Good luck!

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