Don’t “empower” anybody: The biggest leadership mistake you can make

I hate the word, “empowerment”. It’s often inhibits us from becoming a good leader.

I hate the word “empowerment.”

I never think I should “empower” anyone — especially our team. It’s often a leadership mistake, in my mind.

Why? The definition of the word “empower” is:

to give power to (someone); to make (someone) stronger and more confident.

The key words here are “give” and “make.” Empowerment means you’re transferring power to someone else. You think someone else needs you — your permission, your influence, your talents — to do something. And I don’t ever believe that’s the case.

Our employees don’t need me to do anything.

When it comes to motivation, everything people need they already have inside them. Each person has something unique, special and important to offer the world. And as a leader, it’s my job to merely create the best environment that allows them to come into that themselves.

As Frederick Herzberg, a well-known American psychologist, once wrote:

“It’s the job of the manager not to light the fire of motivation, but to create an environment to let each person’s personal spark of motivation blaze.”

Instead of thinking about how you can empower people, here’s what you should consider:

How can I get out of our employees’ way?

How can I better understand what our employees really want?

How can I make it clear why what they do matters?

How can I uncover what makes meaningful, interesting work for that person?

How can I illustrate what “good enough” looks like?

How can I show what trade-offs we value as a company?

How can I consistently treat each person with respect, patience, and kindness?

How can I seek out dissenting viewpoints, and be open to new ideas?

How can I be clear and inclusive about the vision we’re all working toward?

How can I create opportunities for connection and a sense of belonging at our company?

You don’t need to empower anybody. Don’t succumb to this leadership mistake. Focus on creating an environment for people to be their best selves.


Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.

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