Buzzwords: Empower

To make someone stronger and more confident; to give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

Back Article May 25, 2017 By Robin Epley

/əm’pou(ə)r/, v.

To make someone stronger and more confident; to give (someone) the authority or power to do something.

It’s funny how closely “empower” and “in power” sound, considering their relationship to each other. Someone in power will always have to empower their subordinates to do get anything done. But it’s harder to do than it sounds — no matter how many bosses claim to empower their employees. The word is overused, and overuse leads to misuse. (Misuse leads to annoyance, and then we’re at a place where no one even understands or cares what you mean.)

But “empower” is not just another piece of jargon to be casually tossed around; employee empowerment really does impact your company’s bottom line. A 2012 Gallup poll found that “actively disengaged” employees cost their companies $370 billion in lost productivity. Alternatively, the Temkin Group’s Employee Engagement Benchmark Study in 2013 reported that highly-engaged employees are 480 percent more committed to helping their companies succeed. And to reach engagement, a boss needs to first empower.

We asked LaShelle Dozier, executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (and featured in last year’s Women In Leadership issue), what she thinks of the concept — and what bad empowerment looks like.

The Buzz

Too many managers say they want to empower their team, “yet they tend to micromanage their staff, which actually can cause them to feel devalued, perhaps even powerless,” Dozier says. This can leave employees feeling that their boss doesn’t trust them to handle the responsibility delegated to them, she adds, and that’s demoralizing.

“I think leaders or managers often intend to empower their staff, but they don’t truly get out of the way and let them demonstrate their ability to exercise the authority they’ve been given to get a job done,” Dozier says.

The Word

An example of well-executed empowerment is when a manager assembles a team to tackle a project, defines the purpose and desired outcome, and gives the team the freedom to plan how the goal is achieved. “A very successful leader understands and recognizes highly-skilled and capable employees,” Dozier says. First, they’ll define expectations and then “move out of the way” and let their employees apply their training to finish the task at hand, she says.

Remember that the next time you’re around the conference table and people start passing around the word “empowerment” like the chocolate syrup on a buzzword sundae. If you truly want to empower your staff instead of just talking about it, remember to step back and create an encouraging space — not one of micromanagement.

Got a word that’s been buzzing around your office? Tweet us @Comstocksmag with the hashtag #WhatstheBuzz 

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