How to empower?

Empower is a buzz word.  It has been doing the rounds for a few years now and we all know that great leaders empower, great companies empower their staff and we are better parents when we empower our children.  So if that is the case, then why am I not seeing that much empowerment.

The Business Dictionary defines empowerment as “Sharing information, rewards and power with employees so that they can take the initiative and make decisions themselves”.  Now that does sound easy.  I know loads of Managers that have delegated a task to an employee and asked them to make a decision, stating that they empower they teams.

Empowerment is not something cold and can be learned through a book or following a process.  It is a leap of faith, a value, a commitment to others rather than yourself.


Empowerment to me feels very different.  Empowerment to me means giving up your power and passing it to someone else.   Since we live in an egocentric world, where our own need for control, power and fear of failure drives our decisions, empowerment is actually quite a rarity.

Leading through empowerment is a value that must be lived and breathed everyday, not just picked up and dropped as and when it suits.  True empowerment comes when you can feel confident and comfortable enough in yourself, to allow others to take ownership of a task, a decision or even their own lives.  True empowerment comes when you allow people to makes mistakes and know that it is OK.

Now I am a parent, and empowerment is a tricky value to live by everyday.  Not because I like power and control, but because it is hard work.  Empowering others may take longer, and may take more energy than if you did it yourself.. initially.  I empower my daughter to choose her own outfits at the weekend.  Now this results in the bedroom being a complete mess, colour and pattern clashes and sometimes wearing vest tops in the middle of winter.  My inner parent initially sees mess, and chaos and wants to control it.  However, when I stay in the empowerment perspective something wonderful happens.

When I ask my daughter why she has chosen the combination, I hear that it’s because she wants to wear as many pretty colours as possible as colour makes her happy.  When I ask her whether a vest top is the correct decision for a winter’s day she replies, “of course, and if I get cold I will get a jacket”.

dress up

Now, it wasn’t the outfit choice I would have chosen, but who am I to say that her decision was the right or wrong one.  It was simply a colourful vibrant decision.

My point is, that empowering others is a commitment and a challenge.  It is something that we must practice with an open heart and mind.  The results will always surprise you and will often inspire you.

So here are my tips for empowerment

  1. Before you take on a task, or give an instruction consider whether you could delegate or empower someone else with it.
  2. When you delegate the task or decision, understand that the person receiving may need some support or coaching.  This maybe the first time they have done it.
  3. Be patient – don’t rush it
  4. Be open-minded when they present their decision to you
  5. Be curious as to how they made their decision
  6. Follow it through, don’t undermine their decision, if it isn’t working, brainstorm some more (think vest top in winter)
  7. If a mistake is made, embrace it, and ask them what they learned
  8. Give the praise and public acknowledgement
  9. Repeat – do more
  10. Now call yourself an empowering leader.


Bill Gates learned that “If you give people tools, and they use their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.”